morning, Vietnam! Notes from the field
June 25, 1968
Marched all day -- extremely hot -- up and down -- had
to use ropes at times -- no contact. One man wounded by boobytrap.
Continued march. Light enemy contact. Found 3 packs,
1 helmet (2 holes in it) and blood trails.
Continued march. Light contact. 1 K(illed) 5 W(ounded).
Killed two enemy. No friendly casualties. Rained like
all hell in late afternoon. Miserable, wet, cold.
Continued attack. Killed 3 NVA. Lost one to booby trap
and wounded one -- wounded due to enemy fire. Found large enemy compound,
at least 20 bamboo huts -- beating enemy at their own game.
Took ... bath in stream from waist up. Feel fairly clean
again. Marched through jungles all day -- killed 2 NVA -- no good
guys hurt. Finally got resupplied at dusk by chopper. Only had 2 chocolate
bars, 6 salt tablets, 1 malaria pill, 2 headache tablets, and 1 canteen
water all day until resupply at night. Even had fresh bread. PB&
Jelly sandwich, peaches, juice. Slept well.
Got 2 Gooks today. Both were wounded but died before
we could get them out. Poor bas...ds. Found 3 or 4 NVA base camps
-- destroyed them plus 2 tons of rice. First wounded told us his company
had moved out south this morning -- 100 men. Too bad we couldn't have
got there first. This is the first time any U.S. units have operated
in this area. They can't believe we're here. I think they have been
using it for an R&R center. The area is lousey with Gooks. Got
resupplied in late evening. Slept around bomb crater and burned out
area on a hilltop. Could see open skies and stars for first time.
Also today, Mike Company was strafed by U.S. Army (Cobra) helicopter.
They were on target, but no hits on our guys.
-- Capt. Robert Snowden
By Kathy Helms-Hughes
Capt. Robert Snowden, now of Florida, was about 30 years
old when he joined Lima 3/5 in Vietnam. He was flown by chopper from
Phu Bai to An Hoa and from there to a landing zone and his march began.
But battles he and thousands others like him fought are
beyond the comprehension of most Americans.
During the heyday of fighting in Vietnam, most Americans
saw newscasters such as Dan Rather reporting from the field. The war
was condensed into black and white television footage denoting the
numbers of casualties for the day, followed by scenes of protesters
on the homefront, and politicking in Washington.
Snowden said those who weren't there don't know what
"That's bad. Hand me another sandwich."
"It's really hard to understand unless you were actually
there," Capt. Snowden said.
His first impression of Vietnam: "Hot. Sure does stink.
Because over there, they don't have indoor plumbing like we do. Especially
when you get out in the villages. They use human poo-poo for their
rice paddies. So the whole damn area smells like hell. And it was
hotter than hell, I remember that."
It wasn't just the enemy that American soldiers had to
contend with. There were snakes, water buffalo, mosquitoes, centipedes
"I'd always seen little centipedes a few inches long.
But I'd never seen some as long as these -- 18 inches," Snowden said.
"One guy, he got one and he tied a little piece of communication wire
around it and led it around like a pet. I had a guy get bit by one
on the arm and it swelled up so bad that he couldn't even bend his
arm. I had to evacuate him."
Many of the Americans sent to Vietnam had never been
in a war situation, Snowden said.
"Hopefully you learned enough before you got wounded
or killed. A lot of it was luck," he said.
In any war, accidents happen. Many U.S. soldiers were
killed by "friendly fire," or in other words, by their own people.
"It's happened in every war and it's going to happen
in every war after this. Everything is not super precise," Snowden
"Sometimes artillery is off, or you call it in to the
wrong spot. Planes are going pretty fast; they can't see. I imagine
most everybody took friendly casualties, if you want to call it that,
from friendly fire. It's a sad situation and you hate to see it. But
when you're out there and there are bombs going off, artillery going
off, people shooting in a firefight, there are bullets and explosions,
and sometimes the aim is off a little bit or coordinants are off a
little bit. It's going to happen," he said.
While American soldiers were on the ground and in the
air, politicians were trying to run the war from Washington, "which
is stupid as hell," Snowden said.
"You've got generals and admirals and all these type
of people that had been studying war. Most of them had fought in wars
-- World War II and Korea -- and that's their job. They know how to
"But then you have politicians back here that have never
heard a shot fired in anger. They wouldn't even know which end of
a rifle to point. 'We don't want to anger the Russians. We don't want
to do this ...' It was, 'Keep fighting the war, but try not to lose
it, and let's see if we can make them quit.' We couldn't even bomb
their damn airfields because there might be Russian pilots somewhere
around. It was a hell of a way to fight a war," he said.
An Elizabethton man who preferred anonymity spent 16
months in Vietnam as a gore gunner for the 1st Cavalry Division, 8th
Cavalry air assault and recovery.
"We went in, did what we had to do, and went back for
those people that didn't get back on time or couldn't get back," he
"We went into Cambodia and everywhere else. Of course,
they denied we ever went. North Vietnam and Hanoi, they bombed the
fire out of them and then denied it, but it's the truth. The things
that happened, it's something that will never be untangled.
"Once you go in, everybody's got their job to do, but
after a little while, that plan falls through and you just survive.
You do whatever it takes," he said.
"It's hard to talk to someone who wasn't there, to describe
things that there's no description for."
Strategists in Washington would work the game plan out
on paper, "and then send you in to see if it would work."
"Some of them guys that were making policy in Washington
and trying to run a war and depriving those that knew war from doing
it -- if they'd got over there, they'd have gotten killed, too.
"If they'd let (Gen.) George Westmoreland alone, he'd
have handled the war for them. When trouble came, he was there. He
knew what to do. In my opinion, he was one of the greatest that ever
was. He didn't send you to do a job; he went with you. And when trouble
came and it didn't work out, he went to find out why. He wasn't no
slouch," he said.
Cpl. Robert Henry of Lima 3/5 who now resides in Florida,
said the enemy had no place to run above ground, so they went underground.
"They had entire facilities. They had trucks buried that
they could just drive right out of there. They had hospitals. I've
been in one of their underground hospitals. We're talking maybe 1,300,
1,400, 1,500 square feet -- the size of a house. It had individual
rooms -- more than one. They had one to keep the weapons, one for
motivation and training, they'd have a hospital down there. We're
talking about a full-blown operating table, generators, the whole
triage kind of treatment," he said.
One battle Cpl. Henry recalled was Meade River.
"That started the day before Thanksgiving 1968, and we
were screwed up on Dec. 1, 1968. We had five guys killed and about
40 some wounded.
"The worst day we had, I believe, was May 25, 1967. We
had, I think, 19 guys killed. And on Mother's Day of 1969, we had
18 guys killed. That's a huge, huge loss, at least for our war --
my war. I don't know what the Army did. I don't even know what the
1st Batallion, 1st Marines did. We just had our little area, probably
a 30 mile circle that we worked in, and we worked it for four or five
years. Guys would come and guys would go," he said.
The Viet Cong were not a very strong force as far as
carrying rifles and shooting at American troops, Henry said.
"They had no fire superiority, they had no air cover,
they had nothing to fight with except to snipe away at us -- nip,
nip and nip.
"They may put a guy out there like a sniper, and he's
shooting at us. We've got 180 guys in a big long line, and one guy
would pin us down maybe for hours at a time. Who's going to be the
guy who sticks up his head and trys to figure out where the guy's
The North Vietnamese Army was a different matter.
"They came down prepared with good weapons, good tactics,
good training, and they'd go toe-to-toe with us. They were well-trained
soldiers and would fight to the death. We fought to the death out
of necessity, not out of choice. It wasn't really our war. ... We
were there to get the hell out. Survival was probably the motivating
factor, for me anyway," Henry said.
George Austin of Kingsport was a track and wheel mechanic,
serving with the 11th Armored Cavalry or "Black Horse" before being
transferred to the 10th Armored Cavalry.
"The bad part about it was I enlisted. But it wasn't
because I wanted to. My mother put me in the Army when I was 17. So
to spite her, I signed up for Vietnam. I didn't have a lick of sense,"
The very first day Austin got to Vietnam, in June 1970,
his unit made a major push into Cambodia. It wasn't long, he said,
before he was thinking, "What the hell did I do?"
"The whole 11th Cav, they had about five troops which
had about 300-and-some guys in each troop and 30 to 40 tanks in a
troop -- they had a gigantic offensive. Two troops got completely
wiped out. It was horrible."
Austin was only 18. "I really flipped out," he said.
"But there were a lot of other guys in the same boat. The battle was
so bad we had to retreat and regroup."
The Vietnamese weren't very good sports, according to
the Elizabethton gore gunner.
"You had to fight back the way they did. When the Geneva
Convention declares rules of war, there's things you do and things
you don't do, but when they're doing it to you, you do it back with
whatever you've got to do it with.
"We didn't go over there to fight in the first place.
We went over there to teach them to defend. We tried to do something
to help them. We sent food, cattle, everything, so that they could
do something besides raise rice. But it didn't work out.
"We'd get them out there and train them during the day
and then come back and fight them that night with what we'd taught
them that day.
"You couldn't tell one from the other. We didn't know
the difference of who they were. The Viet Cong would come right in
there in the classroom and sit right in there and you'd teach them.
It was a screwed up deal," he said.
"They'd send their kids in. The biggest majority of people
in the United States and other countries that had troops there, they
were human beings. And when they saw atrocities, they saw people starving
and people being mistreated, they'd do something about it. They'd
pick up kids and feed the kids and give them their own food, and they,
in turn, would load them down with C4, which is an explosive, and
send them into the mess hall and blow them all to pieces and you too
-- kids and all.
"This was laying the groundwork for a lot of death and
misery and dying, but we didn't know that. We were there for the right
reasons, but of course it turned sour. (The war) could have been over
with a long time (before it was), but our government saw fit to increase
troops, increase firepower, increase support, increase everything,
which just compounded the thing. We weren't allowed to do the job
and get it over with. We would go so far, and then we'd take the same
ground two or three times," he said.
The Elizabethton veteran was in Special Forces during
the Tet Offensive of 1968.
"It was just a slaughter," he said. "They were trying
to put a stop to the war at that time. They were going to try to bring
it to negotiations, so they poured it on everywhere. They waged war,
that one time. Had they went three or four more days, there wouldn't
be anybody left to tell the tale. They would have bombed them into
oblivion. But they would tell the people here one thing, and they
were doing something else."
The nightly news accounts were accurate, he said, "so
far as the information they got. But they didn't have the whole story.
They made it sound bad enough, but the reality was, you can't imagine."