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  America Takes Charge (1965-1967) Previous
4 of 11

Come on, First, come on, let's go! We're falling behind, we might have something up there. (Gunfire) Just keep going up to the top of the hill, pull up behind 2-6 maybe...Come on Sergeant Havard, you're overdue. Take a deep breath. Come on, keep movin'. (Gunfire) If y'all move out up there to get up on the top, go ahead. Let the second platoon handle it if they can. (Gunfire)

LT. COL. TED DANIELSEN:The soldiers got a great deal of support from the States. Classes by the hundreds would write letters addressed to a soldier in Vietnam, and these were packed up and sent to our unit, and by and large, the soldiers would try to respond to these things. There was a groundswell of popular support behind the troops in 1965.

NARRATOR: American combat troops went to South Vietnam to prevent the Communists from taking over. Before that, Americans had served as advisers to the South Vietnamese army. The advisory effort had failed. Now America was taking charge of the war.

South Vietnam was on the other side of America's world. It was a strange, incomprehensible country for the American soldiers. A land whose people, language and culture were completely unfamiliar.

Over the next two years the American force built up to nearly half a million troops. They were deployed in mountains, plains and deltas. They fought highly trained North Vietnamese regulars and lightly armed South Vietnamese guerrillas. This is the story of a few of those men.

BILL EHRHART: I had been accepted in, at several colleges, four colleges, by my senior year. And then I just decided, no, I'm gonna join the Marines. And I had to spend a lot of time talking to my parents about it, because at 17, of course, I would not have been allowed to sign an enlistment contract in my own right. They had to sign it too, and really what I think tipped the scales in the discussion was at one point, after talking for a long time I said, "Mom, is this the way you raised me, to let other mothers' sons fight America's wars?" And they were young people during World War II. They believed in their country and that was it. They hadn't raised me that way.

NARRATOR: Before going to Vietnam, recruits were shown an official film, produced to explain America's commitment.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON, Defense Department film, July 1965:
I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men into battle. I have seen them in a thousand streets, of a hundred towns in every state in this Union, working and laughing and building and filled with hope and life. But as long as there are men who hate and destroy, we must have the courage to resist.

BILL EHRHART: During my senior year, when the government said that the Communists were taking over Vietnam, and if we didn't stop them there we would have to stop them eventually in San Diego, I took that at face value. And I saw my opportunity to really, to be a hero.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON, Defense Department film, cont'd:
The people of South Vietnam have fought for many long years. Thousands of them have died. Thousands more have been crippled and scarred by war. And we just cannot now dishonor our word. Or abandon our commitment. Or leave those who believed us, and who trusted us, to the terror and repression and murder that would follow. This then, my fellow Americans, is why we're in Vietnam.

NARRATOR: The buildup of American forces accelerated during 1965.

Trained to fight a conventional war against the Soviets in Europe, the Americans found themselves unwrapping hand grenades in South Vietnam.

By the end of the year, nearly 200,000 American troops had landed.

MARK SMITH: One of the things that struck me first upon arriving in Vietnam -- and still strikes me now -- was that it's probably the most beautiful country I've ever seen, and the one aspect of it that strikes me most deeply and stays with me, and it's the hardest to describe, is the intensity of the colors, especially the greens. They virtually, I mean, they almost vibrated, they were that intense.

NARRATOR: American soldiers were unprepared for the complexity of South Vietnam. Some Vietnamese were loyal to Communist North Vietnam and the Vietcong guerrillas. Some belonged to various religious and political factions. Many tried to remain neutral. Others supported the anti-Communist government backed by the United States.

The Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army, the NVA, controlled large parts of South Vietnam. GIs called these areas "Indian Country."

MARK SMITH: The villages were hidden because they were almost always surrounded by very thick hedges. From outside the village you might not even see any evidence of a village. And then you'd walk through this hedge, and here was this whole society. We knew that the people who lived there probably lived normal lives, that we might even understand if we were a part of it. But we weren't a part of it. All we saw were the people staring at us like we were from Mars.

BILL EHRHART: One of the first things that I began to wonder about -- really wonder about -- is the soldiers who were our allies, the Army of the Republic. We called them the ARVN -- they wouldn't fight! At least in our area, in heavily populated civilian areas where the enemy was literally the old farmer-by-day, fighter-by-night kind of thing. With virtually no equipment except what they could capture from the Americans and the ARVN, tremendously outnumbered, the Vietcong were there day after day after day picking away at us. You know, I don't know, like gophers at the feet of a buffalo or something. And it occurred to me that these are the same people. The ARVN and the VC are the same people, the same race, the same culture, and yet one side seems to be chicken and the other side seems to fight in the face of overwhelming disadvantages. And I started wondering why, you know, why is this? They were far more mobile than we were. It was their country, they knew where they were going, they didn't need guides to get them around, they didn't need interpreters.

When we went into the field we took 50 or 60, 70 pounds of gear. Your average Vietcong guerrilla might have carried, might have been carrying ten pounds worth of stuff. He'd carry a rifle and a few rounds of ammunition and a little plastic bag or a leaf filled with some rice, and that's all that man needed -- or woman.

There were a lot of female guerrillas. They were quick, they could get around, and if they did not want to engage you, they simply melted away -- they disappeared, you didn't see them.

MARK SMITH: Whenever you did make contact with the enemy, you'd go from the most horrible boredom, I mean just absolute deathly boredom to absolutely the other extreme, the most intense continual excitement I've ever known in my life. I'm not sure how to describe the energy you would feel and the excitement you would feel, however you felt about it in terms of being scared or liking it or disliking it or whatever.

The excitement was there, I think, for everybody. You couldn't go through combat and remain detached. It was the idea of someone shooting at you, someone trying to kill you. You were trying to kill someone. You were using that finger to try to take someone's life. And that sends a real charge through you.

May 1966:

CAPT. TED DANIELSEN: Two calling six, I've got 'em on corral. I've got contact with some snipers. Over. ...Everybody get off the middle of this L. Z. Everybody. Move out! Get out there. Four-six get that mortar set up on the hill, I want fire in one minute.

NARRATOR: American strategists planned to use fire power to break the will of the enemy. And make them talk peace on America's terms.

It brought to bear the power of its industry and technology. And also its young men.

VERNON GILLESPIE: I can recall one time when the 22nd NVA Regiment was located down on the coast in an open area. They were trying to move from one point to another and had hoped to be able to carry out this movement without being detected. But the First of the 9th Cavalry did detect them. They detected them very late in the evening. It was around five-thirty or six o'clock. And throughout the next two days proceeded to eliminate them once again, I might point out, primarily through the use of awesome fire power. I know that my battalion alone fired 22,000 artillery rounds into a very small area. And this are had been heavy jungle when we started the fight, and it really looked like the moonscape when we got through.

But it wasn't just artillery fire. You had had air strikes coming in and tanks were brought up and this was the third time we had run up against the 22d NVA Regiment. And every time we ran up against them, why, we would tear 'em up, and they would fall back into the mountains. And six months later, they'd come back completely refurbished -- a new regiment -- and we'd have to go through this drill again.

We captured the operations officer of the 22nd NVA Regiment. He was very interesting to talk to after we'd had him for about a month. This man was a senior captain, which would be the equivalent probably of a major or lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army. He was as dedicated to his leaders as I was dedicated to mine. I wasn't questioning what I was doing in Vietnam either. My leaders decided that I should go, and I went. And I was a good soldier. He was in the same position. And he was down there reunifying his country, as far as he was concerned. And that was all that he needed to know.

NARRATOR: Infiltration of large North Vietnamese army units into South Vietnam increased rapidly as American troops expanded their combat role. When the North Vietnamese reached the South, they often relied on Vietcong guerrillas recruited from Vietnam's predominantly peasant society.

EVERETT BUMGARDNER (U.S. civilian adviser): In Vietnam, for generations the real power and the economy of the education through which you get power, was in the hands of a very few people. Maybe three to five percent of the population controlled the government, controlled the economic life of the country. If you were a peasant or a lowly born, it was almost impossible to break out of this chain of your father and your grandfather. The Vietcong quite often can turn the peasant's mind into the idea that if you revolt, if you join us, we can change this system. As a result, many young men and women voluntarily, willingly joined the Vietcong in Vietnam. He's developed into a savior of his village and his family -- a super nationalist. He has to be able to be a pretty savage fighter -- ambushes, quick hit and run operations, participate in the terrorism and beheading or assassinations of village chiefs of effective government officials who were opposed to him.

He might be an extremely sensitive young man, may be even Buddhist. He may regard human life very highly, and actually lose merits for his passage to the life beyond by taking human life. It's a complete metamorphosis when he was riding that buffalo in the paddy field and became a fighting soldier against the government.

BILL EHRHART: Most of our enemy contact at that time was not contact at all, it was mines and snipers, mostly mines. Our battalion, if I recall correctly, had something on the order of 75 mining incidents per month. Most of them, many of them producing casualties.

And so, day after day, you had dead Marines, wounded Marines, and nobody to fight back at. In the meantime, you've got guys, you know, you go out, you run a patrol, somebody hits a mine and there's a couple of dead people. And here's Joe the rice farmer out in his field. He just, he don't even stop. He don't even, it's like he didn't even hear the blast. And after awhile, you start thinking, well, these people must know where these mines are. How come they never step on them? They must be, they must be VC. They must be VC sympathizers.

And so over a relatively short period of time, you begin to treat all the Vietnamese as though they are the enemy. If you can't tell, you shoot first and ask questions later.

NARRATOR: To deprive the enemy of peasant support, the American command tried a new tactic: moving the population out of Vietcong base areas.

LT. COL. ALEXANDER HAIG: Actually, the operation itself consisted of a mobile landing -- air mobile landing, by helicopter -- in seven separate landing zones. And this simultaneous landing, of this much force, enabled us to get complete surprise, and as a result of the surprise achieved, the VC -- many of whom were in the town, some in the area just adjacent thereto -- were caught totally by surprise -- many without weapons -- running to tunnels and hiding places which they had developed over the years.

Because of this complete surprise, we got -- either by killing or capturing -- over 30 VC in the initial wave.

DAVID ROSS (Army medic): The main goal of it was to eliminate the National Liberation Front political and military structure from a triangular area about 50 to 60 square miles. And it was decided that in order to do this, they would move out the entire population. The part I was involved in was the evacuation of Ben Suc which was a decent size city of perhaps around 3,000 people. We were provided some medical screening, and medical back-up for the operation...

During the evacuation of villagers from Ben Suc, I was struck by a sense of resoluteness in the villagers. They understood what was happening; they understood that they couldn't really change the situation. They were going to be taken out of their homes. I'm sure that deep down inside they knew that that was the end of Ben Suc as a village -- that we were going to destroy the village. They seemed to accept it with a very special kind of strength.

It was kind of sad in a way because Ben Suc was a pretty village. It was a very old village and the people there seemed to enjoy a little better standard of living than people in many of the other villages.

The villagers were taken out by boat, by helicopter and by truck to relocation centers. Basically, once the people were taken out, the whole thing was just turned into a parking lot.

At the same time the villages themselves would be destroyed -- anything of material value would be eliminated -- mattresses would be slashed, rice would either be taken out or poisoned or dumped in the river, crops would be defoliated. And it made it much more difficult for the Liberation Front to continue without this material and population base.

NARRATOR: The press corps in Saigon was briefed on the operation, called "Cedar Falls" by its commander, General Jonathan Seaman.

JONATHAN SEAMAN, January 1967:
They'll have a little trouble using them, but I should say right now that to destroy these vast tunnel complexes is a pretty formidable job. And we do the best we can. And I'm sure that if they're willing to go back in with just a whale of a lot of effort, and expend all that effort, they could probably rehabilitate them over a period of years, or months. But when you realize that it's taken them about 20 years to build this thing up, well, if I were a VC, I'd be somewhat discouraged.

NARRATOR: American forces ended the operation and withdrew. Soon, even without help from the civilian population, the enemy was back in its base, again threatening the region around Saigon.

BILL EHRHART: What really began to happen after a few months is that you begin, you could get as far as understanding that this was crazy. What was going on here was nuts. But didn't dare begin to draw conclusions from that, because they pointed in directions that were just terrifying. I mean, America might not be the guys on the white horses with the white hats, maybe we shouldn't be in Vietnam, maybe I've gotten my ass out here in the bushes for nothing. You can't think about that kind of stuff in a situation like that. For instance, it never occurred to me to quit -- lay down my rifle and I'm not going to do this. Somewhere lurking in the back of my mind was 20 years of making big rocks into little rocks.

I knew when I went to Vietnam that I had to be there for 395 days, and if I was still alive when I got to the end of those 395 days, I could go home and forget the whole thing.

You wondered, you know, are we going to make contact today, are we going to get hit? But if you spent a lot of time thinking about that -- particularly, is this the day I'm going to buy the farm -- you'd go nuts! You'd go nuts!

You found ways, without even doing it consciously, of keeping your thoughts well within the immediate environment that you were dealing with.

There were leeches everywhere, and so whenever you stopped for a break you'd have to take your boots off and check for leeches. One of the major problems that guys had was a thing called "immersion foot." You'd get this kind of rot on your feet because your feet were always wet.

It did get cold at night when we were out on operations during the monsoon. The heat was a lot harder to deal with in the summer months. You had been used to 100, regular 100 degrees up to 110 -- some days it would get up to 120 -- and we ended up taking a lot of chances. You'd go without flak jackets, you'd go without a helmet trying to decide what the odds were of getting heat stroke as opposed to what the odds were of getting hit.

I don't have nightmares about killing armed soldiers in combat. The thing I have the nightmares about is the woman in the rice field that I shot one day because she was running -- for no other reason -- because she was running away from the Americans who were going to kill her, and I killed her. Fifty-five, 60-year-old, unarmed. And at the time I didn't even think twice about it.

CAPTAIN EDWARD BANKS: It's not like the San Francisco 49ers on one side of the field and the Cincinnati Bengals on the other. It's just not like that. It's, the enemy is all around you. One second you may be fired upon from the rear, the next second from straight ahead, or either flank. You never know.

In other words you never knew who was the enemy and who was a friend. They all dressed alike, they were all Vietnamese. Some of them were Vietcong; they all looked alike.

NARRATOR: What follows is an account from both sides -- American and Vietnamese -- of what happened in a village Marines were trying to clear of Vietcong, ten miles from where U.S. troops first landed in 1965. It's January 1967.

EDWARD BANKS: We planned a detailed two-company operation involving Golf Company of the second battalion, First Marines, and Hotel Company which I command. I was put in charge of the operation as a senior company commander.

JACK HILL: Well, I could say like, normally you come through on a village operation, you come through on a sweeping motion on line and you're sweeping through the village. So we get up to this village and first you start off with a little light sniper fire, you know. Then, then you get these 50 calibers opened up, you're getting 30 calibers opened up and you're getting people falling all over and so you're, you're running around trying to find out what you're doing. So we spread out and dug in.

EDWARD BANKS: The lead squad of that third platoon got about 100 to 150 meters from the tree line, and fire increased from the tree line directly to their front, and they also started receiving fire from both their flanks.

JACK HILL: It was intense gun fire and it sounded like a jackhammer. You ever hear a jackhammer going off? Sounded like they had about 10 to 15 jackhammers going off at the same time, I mean, total chaos.

EDWARD BANKS: And I called in artillery support to fire on the tree line.

JACK HILL: Waiting for the word to advance, but there wasn't no advance. So we was pinned down, we were pinned down all day, all night. In the rain, and it rained like somethin' pitiful. And we couldn't see nothin', we couldn't see nothin', we were just pinned down. And we had casualties, we took on a lot of casualties.

EDWARD BANKS: Out of about 30 men, there were 11 left. And we called in helicopters to come in that night in the darkness, to get the wounded and killed out. The first helicopter load we got out was the last one because the Vietcong opened up on the helicopter wounding the pilot, and no other pilots were willing to volunteer to come in.

JACK HILL: I'd watch guys lay there and cry for their mothers all night long. Dyin', slowly dyin', askin' to be shot because they can't take it no more. And you're sitting up there with your -- but you're a bundle of nerves. You're a bundle of nerves and all you can do is wait, wait, wait, wait, wait...

EDWARD BANKS: We ended up going some 36 plus hours without food or water, or sleep obviously. And uh, that is saying a lot when you consider the temperature was around 100 degrees, no water, no food, no rest. We were pretty tired Marines at the end of that first day.

There were two villages there that the battalion wanted swept and searched to see if there were any remaining VC in there.

JACK HILL: It lightened, lightened up and then we advanced toward the village.

NGUYEN BAY: When the Americans came, I was a boy in the fourth grade. I was on my way to school when I heard the Americans were coming. I was very scared and ran back home with my friends. By the time I got thee and had hidden my things the Americans were close to the village. Airplanes were overhead bombing, soldiers were coming and shells were exploding.

EDWARD BANKS: Somebody had seen some movement in some of the houses, and the next thing we knew we were receiving automatic weapons fire. Lt. O'Connor was hit in the left shoulder above the heart. And he was bleeding quite severely. I remember sloshing back to where he went down with the company corpsman and uh, we started returning fire and providing a covering base of fire, calling artillery in and scheduled an emergency medivac helicopter to come in and get Lt. O'Connor out.

Lt. O'Connor, I recall, was delirious. He kept trying to get up. It was taking the three of us to keep him on the ground. He kept trying to get up to get to his platoon to deploy them and command them, not realizing how seriously he was hurt. The corpsman put a hemostat on the artery to stop the bleeding, and we were successful in getting a helicopter to take out Lt. O'Connor at the same time as we assaulted the village two or three hundred meters to the front of us where the fire was coming from.

JACK HILL: We was the first team in, we unloaded several rounds. We dropped a couple of grenades in the hootches to get the people out, because to get one Vietnamese out of that hole, they won't come. I mean we didn't speak perfect Vietnamese so in order to get them out of there you either cranked off a couple of rounds or you dropped your M-26 grenade down there and they get the message and they come out of there.

EDWARD BANKS: The assault took anywhere from two to three minutes, maybe five minutes at the outside. As quickly as I could determine that there were, or there was no longer any fire being returned, I ordered cease fire and consolidation.

LE THI TON: When they came to my house, there were ten family members inside, including my 14-year-old son. Four or five soldiers came right over. When they came in, I stood up and greeted them. They laughed when I did that, they seemed to hate us. They just turned around and threw a grenade into the house. Nine or ten people were blown to pieces. I was the only one who was wounded and survived. My son and everyone else just fell dead. I was wounded and extremely frightened and crawled quickly into a corner of the house. Although the grenade had already exploded, the soldiers fired their guns at the people to make sure that nobody would survive.

JACK HILL: It was mass chaos. Like I say, everybody's running around screaming. We got in the village and asked where the VC were and people in the village were saying no VC, and like at one end of the village you could hear machine gun fire going off and people screaming, you know, and you know that somebody was either down in one of them holes getting dug out of there or something. And we dropped plenty of hand grenades down in booby traps, and I mean in holes and stuff to see if we could root them out. And, you go into a hootch and you got, you got tunnels in there and you got old ladies and kids in there running out and, we didn't, I didn't shoot any old ladies and kids. I know, I know half the guys in my squad didn't shoot no old ladies and kids because it just -- that wasn't the fight there.

NGUYEN BAY: They came and asked us about the Vietcong. There were only women and children around then and we didn't know where the VC were. But they shot at us anyway. They burned down the houses and then they killed all of our farm animals.

THUONG THI MAI: After they killed the people, they burned down all the houses so the survivors had no place to live. They burned everything. Even dead children were burned. So I could collect only this much of the remains of three children. It was only a handful of bones.

JACK HILL: Like I say, you get in the way of an M-14 or M-60 caliber machine gun and there's no tellin' who's gonna get killed. And you got an angry 18-year-old kid behind the gun and he's just seen his buddy gettin' killed. And he's not gonna have no remorse for who's on the receiving end of that 60 caliber machine gun.

NGUYEN BAY: The soldiers used their guns in a very brutal way. Some of the wounded people went to their beds to lie down. The soldiers shot their ears. Blood was coming out in pools as they lay there. Then the soldiers shot at their stomachs and their insides splattered all over. Then they smashed people's heads, using the butts of their guns. This terrified everyone who was still alive; the children screamed at the brutality they were seeing. But the soldiers kept on with their questioning. First, they shot our water basin to pieces, then they just opened fire at us, just opened fire continuously. I was wounded and fell down.

Looking back at that time I have to say that it was so horrible that I can't describe it all. After I was wounded -- I was wounded here and there's still a scar from the gunshot wound, right here -- several dead people fell on me. So I escaped being killed.

JACK HILL: Probably, in his eyes, from a kid's point of view it probably did, he probably seen it that way, you know. But like I said, we done a dog-down [sic] job that third day and it wasn't nothing unusual about burning them hootches down and digging them Vietnamese people out of them holes and scattering animals, pigs and chickens around like we normally do. It's just a normal procedure we do. Especially after three days. Three days of blood and guts in the mud.

Hey! You can't take it. We couldn't take it, and like I said, I can't account for every Marine that was there and what they done at, at that particular time, they done it because they felt that, that's what they had to do. I can't account for how they acted, you know. Everybody's got their own way, but if he seen it that way, that's the way he seen it. And the way I seen it, it was war.

NARRATOR: After military operations in the field, men returned to their base camps. They were little American islands in the midst of South Vietnam.

"OK, let's saddle up."

"Go on with your digging Miller, I'll go."

"You're feeling all right, Little John?"

"Never better. Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with myself, sitting around here without you guys."

NARRATOR: Next to the bases, small Vietnamese towns grew up. For the men here and on the new American air bases, there was never much time off from the war. Bombing operations were conducted around the clock. North Vietnam was a main target.

LESLIE GELB (Department of Defense): The bombing of North Vietnam was considered a linch pin of the whole war strategy for two reasons. First, it was the way you applied pressure and caused pain in North Vietnam itself. Secondly, it was supposedly the way you cut off the necessary flow of supplies from North Vietnam to the North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops fighting in South Vietnam.

Interdiction was the key term. And it looked to us that even though we were stepping up the bombing, almost month by month, that there was no impact on North Vietnamese and Vietcong military activities in the South. So we had to ask the question: was the interdiction campaign working at all? So we started to make the calculations: how much supplies would have to come from north to south to keep 150,000 troops in the field and fighting, producing as much devastation as they were? And we had a pretty good fix on how many trucks the North Vietnamese were sending down and we estimated, as I remember it, some-thing like 50 to 100 trucks a week. And that they only needed to get through ten or 20 of those trucks to maintain just that level of military activity that they had been carrying out. And we estimated that based on past experience, there was no way we could eliminate those, that 20 percent. No matter how effective the bombing was, they were going to get at least that through. In other words, the interdiction campaign was not working and would not work.

PAUL WARNKE (Assistant Secretary of Defense): Now, of course, there was one alternative. You could have engaged in the kind of bombing of North Vietnam that would've devastated the society totally. You could have bombed the dams, you could have destroyed the population, I suppose you could have used nuclear weapons. We, I think, fortunately had the good judgment, had the basic humanity not to consider that kind of bombing campaign.

NARRATOR: By the end of 1967, the war was draining America's armed forces. When experienced soldiers completed their one-year tour of duty, their replacements included a growing proportion of draftees.

CHARLIE SABATIER (Specialist 4th Class): When I first spotted Vietnam -- when I first spotted the country from the plane -- is when I really started to understand that there's really a war going on here. You know? I mean, I could tell by looking at the countryside. There were bomb craters, artillery craters everywhere. I mean, it wasn't as if you saw a nice beautiful forest and then you went on in and you saw a battleground then. The whole country was covered with bomb craters.

As soon as the plane landed and we got off the plane we got onto these buses. A typical bus, except that they looked like prison buses, army green prison buses with wire mesh over the windows. And I asked why, you know, this kind of bus. I thought we were in friendly country here, you know. And they told me that it was to stop people from running up and throwing grenades into the bus. Oh my God, you mean people are trying to kill me? Wait a minute, you know. I never really thought about dying before.

I was drafted, pretty naive 20-year-old kid, really, hardly a man. And with a pretty narrow view of what the world was really like.

As soon as I got there things just, it was almost like there were a bunch of guys that got together and gone camping one afternoon, that had never camped in their lives.

I probably saw half a dozen dead Americans before I ever shot at the North Vietnamese or Vietcong. Strictly from our own mistakes. People walking along behind somebody with their trigger guard undone and tripping and shooting somebody in the back accidentally. You trusted yourself only. You weren't likely to trust many other people, because you know your life was on the line here.

SOLDIER: Where the fuck was that Second Platoon when we got up there?

SOLDIER 1: All right, I need a perimeter set up here quick!


SOLDIER 1: You got any first aid dressing?

SOLDIER 2: I don't have any...

WOUNDED SOLDIER: Oh! I knew they were going to get us today!...Goddamn...

SOLDIER 1: Get the perimeter set up around us. You got the first aid?

WOUNDER SOLDIER: I got it in the back -- you better get me a doctor. What's that? Another day in the 'Nam.

CHARLIE SABATIER: The third time I heard it somebody was saying, "Tex, help me, Tex." And so my friend says, "Don't be a fool. Don't go out there, you're gonna get killed." And I probably think that he was more scared of me leaving him alone than me getting hurt. But I didn't go out for like ten minutes, I kept hearing this, this friend of mine hollering, "Tex, help me, help me." And so finally I don't know what happened. I didn't really think it over or anything, I just instinctively jumped out of the bomb crater and ran over to help this guy.

Just as I got to him I was putting one knee down on the ground and was just reaching for him and I felt this thud in my back, and I thought my other friend had run out too and had tripped or something when I stopped, you know, and had like accidentally kneed me in the back.

It was just, you know, like if somebody had punched you right in the back as hard as they could. Well, it knocked the breath out of me. I took this deep breath. When I took the breath, this blood just came flying right out of my throat as if I had a faucet in my mouth, and, you know, like my chest hits the ground. I'm laying on my M-16. And uh, I realized that I'd been shot.

I went back, I flashed back to my training, and I remembered yelling and screaming things. They would yell, "What's the spirit of the bayonet?" And you would have to scream back, "To kill." That was the spirit of the bayonet. And I'm thinking, you know, my whole job is to kill -- I'm a trained killer. That's all I know how to do -- I'm an 11-B40, light weapons infantry, I'm just a trained killer. And it's a, you know, all of a sudden I thought: how did I get here? I never wanted to be a trained killer, I didn't want to kill anybody, I didn't know the first thing about -- I started thinking, you know, for the first time, what the hell is communism? I couldn't define it and I'm layin' here and going to die for killing a bunch of people 'cause they happen to be Communist!

And we began to realize that if somebody will actually live out here in this stupid jungle, dig tunnels all day long, live in these tunnels for ten years, just to fight us, you know, when we're there to do good, it made you start wondering. You know, if they're willing to go through all that -- and I must admit, you know that those things weighed on our minds. Maybe if it had been a different kind of war, we wouldn't start thinking like that, but the troops who were actually out there doing the killing really began to respect the people that they were killing.

NARRATOR: By late 1967, the American forces in South Vietnam numbered nearly half a million and U.S. commanders were asking for more.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to Saigon to reaffirm America's commitment.

And may I say that despite public opinion polls -- none of which may I say have ever been friendly toward a nation's commitment in battle -- despite criticism, despite understandable impatience, we mean to stick it out, until aggression is turned back and until a just and honorable peace can be achieved, until the job is done. That is the policy of the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States and the Congress of the United States. So let people understand that. (APPLAUSE)


...In the Republic of Vietnam for wounds received in connection with military operations against a hostile force.

Congratulations. For heroism against a North Vietnamese unit.

MARK SMITH: I think after a while I began to feel that someone was taking advantage of our bravery and our courage, and I think there was that, to no good end. So we were being used, really, for God knows what purpose, at least in terms that we could understand and appreciate on a gut level, which was the level on which you operated in Vietnam.

Words like "Peace with honor" and "negotiations," they didn't pay the bills over there. Not when you were out in the field.

JACK HILL: Well, the things I tried to put away was seeing my partners gettin' killed. Layin' out there in that mud and that rain for so long. That's the only thing that really upset me about that whole operation. I could'a give a damn about what happened inside that village. Those are my personal feelings.

BILL EHRHART: In grade school we learned about Redcoats, the nasty British soldiers that tried to stifle our freedom, and the tyranny of George III, and I think again, subconsciously -- but not very subconsciously -- I began increasingly to have the feeling that I was a Redcoat. I think it was one of the most staggering realizations of my life that to suddenly understand that I, I wasn't a hero, I wasn't a good guy, I wasn't handing out candy and cigarettes to the kids in the French villages. That somehow I had become everything I had learned to believe was evil. Now when I went on R & R in Hong Kong, I came very close to deserting. Somehow in the space of eight months I'd reached the point from being a volunteer hurrying off to do his duty for his country, to seriously contemplating desertion, to just disappearing into the world somewhere.

JACK HILL: We had just gotten there and we was sort of eager to do a good job and, and gain the respect as good Marines, you know? And we kinda looked after each other, 'cause like I say, we came out of boot cap and we was on that, on that first team there, and we got real close, 'cause the old guys that was rotating, they had their time and we was trying to set a pattern for our own selves to do good.

TED DANIELSEN: And there just seemed to be no label on anyone except "soldier." And "comrade" and "buddy." And based on that, they performed well, extremely well. And it was a pleasure to have, and a privilege to have commanded them.

LOUDSPEAKER: For wounds received in connection with military operations against a hostile force.

OFFICER: When did you get hit?

SOLDIER: 25 October sir.

OFFICER: 25 October.

SOLDIER: Yes, sir.

OFFICER: You're one of our early ones...

SOLDIER: Yes, sir.

OFFICER: Congratulations.

LOUDSPEAKER: Meritorious service...

OFFICER: Congratulations. You've done an outstanding job. That's uh... quite a medal.

LOUDSPEAKER: By direction of the President under provisions of regulation 672-5.

NARRATOR: After almost three years, American combat forces had won major battles, but not the war. American commanders had expected their massive firepower to grind down the enemy. But despite the enormous casualties, the Communists were in-creasing their infiltration into South Vietnam as they prepared for the biggest offensive of the war.

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