Red Clay Newsletter of the Veterans who served at Khe Sanh Combat Base, Hill 950, Hill 881, Hill 861, Hill 861-A, Hill 558 Khe Sanh Village, Lang-Vei and Surrounding Area

 

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    "All The Way"
834th Air Division

 

Michael Fishbaugh turned up the following articles and photos that were published in “The Vietnam Airlifter” Newsletter April of 1971. It is a tribute to those Air Force Heroes who kept Khe Sanh Rolling.

Freight specialists are probably among the hardest working men in the Air Force. These men keep the supplies moving in one of the hottest spots at Khe Sanh.

S/Sgt. Gerald Bickford, a freight specialist at the Khe Sanh Air Base, recently found himself surrounded by a news team from one of the television networks in Vietnam. "How long have you been in Vietnam?" the correspondent asked Bickford who is something of a legend "for being where the action is." "Forty-eight months," came the crisp reply. The startled newsman asked what the men who unload the aircraft in the unprotected areas did when the shells began coming in. "We run like hell," Bickford replied. "I beg your pardon," remarked the correspondent. "We run back to the bunkers.'" Then the newsman asked why he hadn't seen the freight crew running when some enemy shells hit the base a few minutes before. Sergeant Bickford, replied, "We have to get the aircraft unloaded before we take off." The Staff Sergeant later commented, "I hope he understood that without supplies we wouldn't be winning this war."

They're a rough crew, dressed in whatever will keep them warm and dry. Often, mud that is four and five days old will cover their fatigues. According to their first sergeant,” they're doing one helluva fine job." What MSgt. Donald Haselrig, First Sergeant of the 8th Aerial Port Squadron was referring to, was the performance of the 16-man mobility team that is handling the freight at the forward supply base. "I've seen them at work and at play," he said, "and, I can guarantee you they do both just as hard.”

Even as the C-130s taxi toward the off-load area, huge aircraft. All the men who hustle the freight at Khe Sanh are volunteers. Besides the long hours, the work is dangerous. In recent days, enemy rockets and artillery shells have fallen on the base. The airmen who work along. The exposed section of the runway makes tempting targets for the gunners.

“However, A/lC freight specialist Arlos Anundson said, "This really doesn't bother us. We're too busy to think much about it." Usually the members of the team spend about two weeks at Khe Sanh and then return to Tan Son Nhut for a short rest.

M/Sgt. Walter Moore, in charge of squadron's detachments explained that after a short time at the forward base, the men become exhausted. “We try to give them as much of a break as possible," he said. Lt. Col. James Rock, who is in charge of the Air Force ground effort at Khe Sanh, praised the work of the freight specialists. He noted that an aircraft was rarely on the ground for more than ten minutes and it isn't unusual for a plane to be turned around in less than five minutes. This means that if the weather holds, the Air Force has been able to bring in 500 tons of badly needed supplies a day. The record for one day here has been 1,000 tons of cargo.

Living and working at Khe Sanh are three maintenance men who are at Khe Sanh to perform emergency repairs on aircraft that have problems. Fortunately, these are few and far between. Sgt. Michael Marabelle explained that he and the other two maintenance men spend most of their time helping to move cargo. "

     Everyone helps out here," he remarked. "That's important." The men of the mobility team seem to thrive on the hard work. Sgt James Dausch explained, "I volunteered for mobility, to be, where the action is. I really enjoy it. I wouldn't want to do nothing else."

They’re all Volunteers. The Work is hard and dangerous. Yet, without them the airlift into Khe Sanh wouldn’t work.
"Any man who works for me had better be an individualist and hard headed to boot, if he wants to be a success as a combat controller," asserts Capt. Donald R. Howie, OIC of the Combat Control Team (CCT). After nine months as chief of the 834th's CCT, the captain should know what it takes to be a winner. He's seen action all over Vietnam and was operating near the Laotian border at Khe Sanh.

A combat controller is the first man into a forward location. Equipped with a radio jeep and a supply of gasoline, he sets up shop as soon as he arrives and proceeds to guide aircraft into the field. He has complete responsibility for contacting each aircraft by radio, giving them landing instructions and talking them "around" any hostile fire in the area. He must be able to make decisions based on what he knows, and once made, he must stick to this decision. "Sometimes a two-striper will have control of all aircraft at a particular airfield," added the captain, between bites of a C-Ration breakfast. "In this case he must be able to make decisions on what he has been taught and overrule the recommendations of senior men not in his career field ." "Me? I love my job." he explained. "This is the only place in the world where a combat controller can perform as he was taught. I'd like to come back for another tour but since there is only one officer slot in Southeast Asia, I'm pretty sure I wont be able to." Since there are no other officers with my specialty over here, I have a free hand in how I deploy troops. We're allowed to operate pretty much the way we want to, as long as the job gets done. It's more meaningful than some other jobs because you are in on both the planning and executing stages." Finishing the C-Ration ham and eggs he tossed the can into the fire and strolled back to the radio jeep and a session of reminiscing about the past nine months. "It's a fairly exciting life over here. I've never been in a firefight or had anyone shooting directly at me, but I've had my share of rocket and mortar attacks," "There was the time at one base when enemy mortars blew up a fuel bladder not 100 yards from our jeep. Exciting wouldn't be the word. I guess scared would come pretty close to how I felt".


A/1C Eddie Koller rolls in with another
load of artillery

During one operation, he was controlling airlift operations into an isolated airfield on the border when the strip came under attack, "They were shooting helicopters off the end of the runway," he related. "You feel pretty lucky to get out of a situation like that without losing any aircraft." "The aircrews put a lot of faith and trust in the controllers when they are coming into a field," he continued, scanning the skies with an unconscious habit. "Anytime a field I'm working comes under attack and I can get the aircraft off safely, I feel like I've done my job."


Another C-130 roars into Khe Sanh past a damaged fork lift. Parts from the damaged vehicle were used to keep the other lifts running smoothly.

 


As one forklift hauls cargo off the C-130, another prepares to move in. Teamwork like this meant that planes spend only a few minutes on the ground.

 


S/Sgt Bickford found some cold water a refreshing break from the hard work. The water containers lid suffice as a cup

 


A/1C Thomas Arndt and S/Sgt Gerald Bickford remove straps from a pallet of artillery shells.

834th Air Division

The Vietnam Airlifter Newsletter
April 1971

 

   
             
 
 
 
         
   

Note Worthy Date in History

“MISSION AT KHE SANH”

MEMORIES ON THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE START OF THE SIEGE OF KHE SANH

By Ly/Col. Dave Harmon  USAF 314 TAW

February 29, 2008, marks the 10th anniversary of one memorable day in a 31-year military career, occurring during what became known as “The Tet Offensive” in the Vietnam War. That battle now celebrates its 40th anniversary.

My C-130E crew was stationed at CCK Air Base, Taiwan and flying out of a forward operating location in Tuy Hoa Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. Our mission was to fly Airland and Airdrop missions delivering personnel and equipment throughout Southeast Asia.

We reported to Operations at “O’Dark Thirty” for mission assignment and briefing and were told we would be dead-heading up the coast to Da Nang and flying three round-trip “B3” (Bullets, Beans and Band-Aids) Airland sorties from there to Khe Sanh. We had flown the same mission six months earlier (while flying out of Cam Ranh Bay) without a hitch; but this was different.

I said to the briefing officer that I thought C-130 landings at Khe Sanh had been suspended due to the intensity of the attack being waged against it by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). I was told that 834th Air Division (Air Force tactical airlift command and control in Saigon) had decided to try a “test” mission to see if it might be successful. We finished the ops and intel/threat briefings, checked out extra flak jackets (to put under our seat cushions) and got underway.

Air Force Aerial Port units are responsible for preparing cargo and passengers for transport, rigging airdrop loads, and the on-loading/off-loading of aircraft. Upon our arrival at Da Nang the Aerial-Porters were ready for us and we were quickly loaded and on our way. Khe Sanh was manned by components of the 3rd Marine Division and other various attached units. It was located on a small plateau in the mountainous northwest corner of South Vietnam and positioned as an interdict on one of the main Communist infiltration routes into South Vietnam. North Vietnamese General Giap had committed several Divisions in the attempt to do to our forces at Khe Sanh, what had been done to the French 34 years earlier in the siege of Bien Dien Phu. He surrounded Khe Sanh and began a series of continuous bombardments and attacks. However, he did not reckon on two differences: modern air support and the character of the US Marine Corps.

B-52’s, fighters and helicopter gun ships rained death on the NVA forces surrounding Khe Sanh and the Marines gave as good as they got with outbound firepower and ground attacks. Key to the Marines’ effort was aerial resupply, without which they would have been defenseless, since all ground lines of communication had been severed. That is where Tactical Airlift came in.

In the years before the Vietnam War, Tactical Airlift forces (C-130’s, C-123’s and all the supporting adjuncts for battlefield aerial delivery) had been improving tactics, equipment, and training for a mission that all planning indicated would become a major factor in modern warfare. A number of exercises were carried out in Florida, the Carolinas, Missouri and the desert Southwest developing new formation and short-field landing tactics and aerial delivery methods such as the Ground Proximity Extraction System (GPES), the Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES), the Container Delivery System (CDS), the Parachute Low Altitude Delivery System (PLADS) and improved personnel and heavy equipment airdrop capability.

Unfortunately, one factor missing in these exercises was a ground force willing to place its logistics requirement in the hands of aerial re-supply in order to stress the Tactical Airlift system to the point of realism. Army trucks were organic, plentiful, and unhampered, so ground commanders (with other agendas) preferred surface resupply in these exercises. The result was a lack of the realism of a Bastogne or a Khe Sanh scenario. (Fifteen years later, I tried to get ground forces participating in a “Century Independence” exercise to agree to such a scenario and it was still like pulling teeth.)

Fortunately, early in the Vietnam War, a situation was reported to have occurred when cargo was seriously backlogged in the marshalling yard of Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon. A visiting Four-Star General asked the Aerial Port Chief Master Sergeant how many more C-130’s were needed to move the cargo to all the forward locations in South Vietnam that needed it. It was rumored that the Chief told the General that if one more C-130 were sent to Tan Son Nhut, they would have to begin vertical parking. It was a good thing that the wrong question was posed to the right person. The Chief took the General to the Aerial Port Squadron loading equipment yard and showed him the broken loading equipment awaiting replacement parts and repairs. The General got the message and that was the beginning of a new look at how to use the C130 in a combat theater. The answer was simple: do whatever you have to do to minimize ground time between sorties. That meant that aircraft maintenance, refueling, and loading capabilities would have to be supported first if they were to be able to support the airlift mission.

(At this point, I am sure some of you “snow on the roof” types are thinking: “good grief, didn’t we learn anything from the Berlin Airlift?” Well, the wheel does have to be reinvented from time to time now, doesn’t it?)

By the time the siege of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive came about, the Tactical Airlift system may not have been a “well oiled machine,” but it was pretty close. Even at Khe Sanh we had a hard surface planked runway over 3,000 feet long with an adjacent hard surface ramp and a Marine, radar Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) in operation. When the weather was lousy (which was most of the time) we could get an instrument approach for a landing or extraction. A procedure was even developed to get a GCA approach to the drop zone (DZ) west of the runway when the weather was too low to land or the threat level was too high for Airland ops. It was a really fluid situation. Our side didn’t always own the entire DZ and the GCA would adjust a flight path accordingly. Considering the environment they were operating in, these GCA controllers were the best I have ever seen.

My Squadron (776th TAS) lost one crew and aircraft, on a GCA to Khe Sanh in bad weather, when they hit the upslope just short of the runway and skidded onto the runway on the side of the aircraft. A picture of a Marine fire fighter trying to chop his way into the cockpit appeared in Life Magazine; but only one crewmember made it out of a forward window.

As I mentioned above, my crew was not without Khe Sanh experience before the day that has kept so much of this era vivid in my memory. We had flown Air-land missions into Khe Sanh in August and December of 1967, and had made four heavy equipment airdrops at an outpost (Lang Vie) west of Khe Sanh. The materials we airdropped there were used to build a bunker which enabled the unit to survive a subsequent armored attack and make it back to Khe Sanh during the initial phase of the siege. We also made GCA-guided, CDS airdrops to the Khe Sanh DZ during the siege.

As I recall, the weather at Khe Sanh on this Leap Year day was about 4,000 foot overcast with good visibility. We broke out several miles east of the field with a clear view of something that looked to be out of a movie set. There was smoke in several locations from incoming ordinance, pieces of this and that here and there, a badly damaged C-123 along side the runway and another on the runway. There were also people shooting at us from off the east side of the field. The tower said it would be a few minutes before the C-123 would be clear of the runway and we would have to go around.

As we were making the go-around, we were still taking hits from the ground fire. I tried as much evasive maneuvering as possible as I pulled up to the right. The field was under attack, the runway was blocked and we had unknown battle damage. No one would have faulted us for aborting the mission at that point. But a quick query of my crew showed that they still wanted to try to land and off-load as much as I did. So we came around again on a steep approach with a lot of side slipping to attempt to get the folks shooting at us to aim at where they thought we were going as opposed to our actual flight path.

This worked somewhat and we made it to touchdown on the runway end where I applied full reverse and stomped on the anti-skid braking in order to make the mid-field turnoff into the off-load ramp. Everything at Khe Sanh sloped uphill from east to west so that all that had to be done in the off-load area was for the loadmaster to open the aft ramp and door and pull the emergency cargo release handle while the pilot taxied out from under the palletized load.

As I turned into the ramp, I saw a Marine motioning us towards him. I was distracted by something (I think it was noticing our Cargo Door Open light coming on) and looked away from him momentarily. As I looked back, all I saw was a large explosion just in front and on the left side of the aircraft, which rocked the aircraft to the right. Stunned, I instinctively made a quick inventory of my personal parts, glanced over my shoulder at my crew and made a quick scan of the engine instruments; everything appeared OK and then I thought, “Oh shit, that Marine.” I looked out to the left and, as the smoke cleared a little, on the other side of a newly formed 10 to 12-foot wide crater a foot or two deep in the ramp (more than likely from a 122mm rocket) was that Marine giving us the “get that mortar magnet out of here” wave-off. He must have heard or seen the incoming rocket and dove for cover behind one of the metal Conex Containers along the ramp.

That seemed like good advice since more incoming could be on the way and they seemed to have us pretty well zeroed in. I taxied onto the west end of the runway and advanced power to the BTTW position. Somewhere in all this our loadmaster got the ramp and door closed and I elected to accelerate in ground effect and fly off the east end of the field at brushing-the-tree-top level, dropping down into the valley to the east and getting out of the immediate area before climbing out. I guess this tactic worked, since we didn’t feel ourselves taking any more hits. However, while beginning the climb-out I discovered that I couldn’t get nose-up elevator control much beyond neutral.

We set up a long straight-in approach for a landing to the south back at Da Nang using trim, flaps and power to help with pitch control and made an uneventful landing. Post-flight inspection revealed evidence of a fire in the right aux tank and lots of holes. One of our maintenance officers later gave me a note listing 104 hits in the aircraft.

Air-land operations were once again suspended at Khe Sanh, but a successful Air Drop/Extraction program continued until the siege was finally broken.

The DFC I received for flying this mission did not mean as much to me as another medal I received for that mission, even though it ranked below the DFC. The 3rd Marine Division took the time to find the names of other service members who had been on the ground at Khe Sanh during the siege and allowed us to share the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, which the Division was awarded. Wow, a Navy medal for a “Blue Suiter.”

I transitioned to the C-130A model and flew another Southeast Asia tour out of Naha AB, Okinawa. And by the end of the Vietnam War I had flown in 9 of the 11 Air Campaigns into which the conflict was divided. But every Leap Year day since then (and 2008 is the 10th since 1968) my thoughts go back to the 3rd Marine Division and the siege of Khe Sanh.

 

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   
On the 40th Anniversary of the start of the siege of Khe Sanh
Chuck Garrior submitted this speech to his local newspaper.
He also supplied Photographs from Khe Sanh.


By Chuck Gerrior
USAF 1st MOB COMM GRP
TEAM 83-66

Today, January 21, 2008, marks the 40th anniversary of the start of the Siege of Khe Sanh in South Vietnam and the TET 68 Offensive. Unlike the 40th anniversary of D-Day at Omaha and Utah Beaches where the Presidents of the Unites States and France speeches were noted around the world, I fear this date will past in history without the same fanfare.

The 77 day siege and the other major TET 68 battles for the Cities of South Vietnam were victories for the US Military at a heavy cost of life and many thousands wounded. Some of these wounded are today still carrying the scars and memories of these battles on a daily basis. The Siege of Khe Sanh was fought by the Marines with support from the Navy Corpsmen (Field Medics) and Seabees, plus the airlift and B-52 Arc Light bombing missions of the USAF. There was also close air support by the USAF, Navy and Marines. It was not a pleasant experience to be on the receiving end of day after day heavy incoming rounds number in the hundreds or better than a thousand, Everyone’s primary worry was to hoping one of the rounds didn’t have your name on it. Incoming rounds were serious business, but to have a sniper round miss you by a few inches could make you very uneasy you for a quite a while.

TRN-6 TA CAN 1st MOB Measuring equipment for aircraft
landing at Khe Sanh Plus B-52 for the Arc Light Runs

The North Vietnamese military commander, General Giap recently stated in his book that his army of soldiers was signifantly defeated by the pressures brought to bare by the US Military. He was just about to sue for peace when he saw hundreds of thousands demonstrators in the streets in cities across the United States. He also knew that Uncle Walter “C” on the CBS Nightly News told the home front we had lost the war. General Giap then knew that he still could win as long as the United States was a divided country. General Giap just waited for thing to go his way.

When the Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors came home in 1966-1973 there were no welcome home speeches or parades. Today if you see a Vietnam veteran take the time to tell them “THANKS” for your service to your country, even if it is 40 years late.

 

 


MACTU Control Tower                
 

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
    COUNTER MORTAR RADAR
AT KHE SANH
 
By Richard McCullough

On the morning of 22 Jan 1968, the US Army field artillery detachment (radar), 1st battalion 40th artillery was located at C-1 just south of Gio Lin, when we were notified of a movement. We were instructed to move to Dong Ha. A couple hours later the battalion radar officer showed up and informed us that a helicopters would be arriving shortly to airlift us to Khe Sanh. Our radar was slung beneath a CH-53 and we hopped aboard.

We arrived at Khe Sanh around 1400 hrs, There was nobody around the airfield. I had my guys get into the trenches until I could find somebody from the 13th artillery. I found my way to the COC and met Lt/Col Hennelly the arty commander. He arranged for a truck to get our radar moved off the airfield and we set up the radar in the 13th arty motor transportation area. Our 2nd helicopter arrived with our jeep and trailer with a generator and spare parts. We had the radar up and running within hours. It was time to sand bag the radar, luckly we were given ammo boxes to fill instead of sand bags.

We were housed with Gunny Drakes mortar section, and my guys helped then when they could. We shared everything together. On the second night, we could hear a special forces team in Laos requesting an air strike on an NVA convoy, which they did not receive. The next morning I went to the daily briefing at the COC. We did learn that a air strike was later made on the empty convoy going back north.

After the briefing, Col Lownds took me aside and introduced me to Major Hudson and Capt Baig so they could give me enemy weapons locations that they knew about. Capt Baig informed me that he was expecting a rocket attack out of the north. I went back to our radar and briefed my guys on what to expect. A couple hours later we got hit with about 200 rounds, we tried to call in weapons locations on our PRC-25 radio, but it turned out, other radio antennas were down and only a few forward observers were left on the net, so we both had no luck talking to the guns that afternoon.

With the attack over, it was time for us to move our radar console into a fox hole. This was no fun with the Khe Sanh hard dirt, but we got it done. The FCC had the wire team install a hot line to the radar.

I instructed my guys to switch over to the radio if the land lines went down. I can’t say enough about the wire teams that repaired the lines during the attacks. They took their share of casualties. As we were situated at the NW end of the runway, we could watch the planes land and the pilots taking pictures with their cameras until the motor rounds starting landing off their wing tips. They dropped their cameras and took off, I have seen foot lockers and helmets come off the tailgate on take off, but never a body.

I remember when one of Gunny Drakes guys time was up and the gunny had to go with him to bring back his flak jacket and helmet, he only did that once. Our seven man detachment, and the mortar crews shared everything, especially when our battalion courier arrived with spare parts. My boss, Major Thomas always sent loafs of bread and a couple cases of beer. The engineers were next to us and I also became close with them. I remember the time Bill Gay got wounded when the female French reporter didn’t get in the bunker quick enough. Actually we were close with everyone around us. We even went to the drop zone with the mortar crews to help them unload supplies.

We had the army riggers from 109th QRTRMSTR and even stars and stripes reporters stayed with us for a couple of days. Our detachment was given a letter from the 26th marines for outstanding performance of duty on 4-5 Feb 68. Our seven man detachment stayed the whole time of the siege and later moved to Quang Tri with the 1/13th arty. Lt/Col Hennelly came down to our radar every morning to see how we were doing. During our stay, we appreciated all the support we got from the Marines. Cannot say enough for mortar battery who were always ready to shoot fire missions when we called them in. Especially when we had aircraft in the area and we couldn’t get artillery fire missions. The USA 238th field artillery detachment received the following awards for our service at Khe Sanh:

SP5 Patrick Harrington, Bronze Star for Valor
SP5 Patrick Odgen, Purple Heart
SSG Richard McCullough, Army Commendation for Valor.

 

 


S/Sgt Richard McCullough                

 

 

 

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
    THE GENERAL of VAL VERDE

By Bill Sonjag
Feature Writer

From the small back yard of his comfortable home, high on the bluffs overlooking the Devils River, Maj. Gen. Gerry Prather (USAF, retired) enjoys the tranquility of cactus gardening, bird feeding, and people watching on boats below. His hours of serenity on the desert high above Lake Amistad are limited by Prather’s hectic, self-imposed schedule of public service.

“God has blessed me with a good personality. I smile a lot, and get along well with people.” Maj. Gen. Gerald Prather (U.S. Air Force, retired) understates the impact he’s had on those around him in his fruitful and gratifying 73 years. Prather is well-known in nearly all Del Rio civic, military and business circles, but only a fortunate few have come to understand the vast career foundation of his military success. Fewer still may appreciate those underpinnings as the source of Prather’s contributions to the community which he and his wife, Carolyn, chose for their final approach and landing in 1986. Before he completed his 32 years of service to the U.S. Air Force, Prather was honored with a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and an ascent through ranks from airman first class to major general in record time. Since his retirement, Prather continues to serve and be honored for his leadership. But his story begins in a one-bedroom tarpaper shack in the stubborn, red clay of Troup County, Georgia.

His first recollection of home was outdoor privies, heating and cooking over coal in a pot-bellied stove, going barefoot all summer, and getting a fresh, single pair of shoes at the beginning of each school year. The Prather home – sited inconspicuously behind his step-grandfather’s house in La Grange – was barely a rifle shot from the Chattahoochee River where it wends south to become the border between Alabama and Georgia.

One of Prather’s prized memories is this portrait sent to his father, Pate Prather, from his training days at Hondo Air Base in the U.S. Air Force Aviation Cadet Training Program. There, Prather trained in the same type of aircraft, the AT-6 “Texan” used by the namesake of Laughlin Air Force Base, Jack Laughlin, a decade after Laughlin went down in the Pacific during World War II. (Contributed photo/Gerald Prather)

Prather pauses to recall the details of his C-130 “Hercules” combat supply missions in Vietnam, discussing his 13 months in service during the heat of that conflict, 1967-1968. Prather was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and skills before he returned to the United States with the rank of major.

A crisp, confident Capt. Gerald Prather pauses for a snapshot on entry to his C-130 “Hercules” cargo and tactical airlift plane at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon. “I think this was just before a mission,” Prather said. “I look too clean here for it to be afterwards.”

“A friend of mine at Khe Sanh shot this while I was dropping supplies to the base. This is my aircraft, but I don’t remember what the cargo was. It was taken in 1967 on a mission when we didn’t have time or safe enough conditions to land there,” Prather said.

Pate Prather strove to keep his family clothed and fed, but with a fourth grade education, he jumped from meat packing to automotive repairs, and finally to the mills. Cotton was still king in Georgia, just as sheep were the four-legged monarchs of south Texas, and Gerald remembers his dad starting as a weaver, tending the shuttles and bobbins of Callaway Mills, while his mother, Hazel Belle, spun cotton in the same plant. “My great grandparents were Creek Indians, and my grandfather died in the 1920s, plunging the family into poverty. My folks married when they were very young, and my mother only went through the seventh grade. We lived in pretty sparse conditions,” Prather recalled. “But we didn’t even know we were struggling.” He is the eldest of four children of Pate and Hazel Belle Prather.

The Prather's moved to a slightly larger house on Orchard Hill, where Pate had long walks to work at the mills, next to a four-acre farm from which Gerald rode a plow mule to school, and climbed trees to catch ‘possums to sell for a quarter apiece. When he was in the fourth grade, the family moved to Murphy Avenue in town, and stayed put until he graduated from high school. “My teacher told mom I wasn’t doing well, so she sat me down in the kitchen with the multiplication tables and said if I moved from there, she’d get the biggest peach tree switch I’d ever seen. So, I became kind of a math whiz,” Prather said, chuckling at the memory and how it sounded when he talked about it. In high school, Prather was center for The Grangers, wearing blue-and-white football jerseys, played trumpet, French horn, trombone, baritone and base in the band, “And I wrote the school song which they still sing today,” Prather laughed. He was class president in both his junior and senior years, and won a Callaway Mills music scholarship to Oglethorpe University, Atlanta.

But the scholarship had strings. Parents had to work at the mills, so when Prather’s parents divorced, he lost the scholarship. “But I stayed busy all the time. I’ve always lived by the words of Charles Wendt. ‘Success in life is not so much a matter of talent or opportunity as of concentration and perseverance,’” Prather said, adding, “…and damned hard work.” So, he sold insurance, waited tables until, “One day a buddy of mine drove by and said he was going down Valdosta to take a test to see if he could be a pilot in the Air Force. Well, I’d never even seen an airplane. It was 1953, 1954, Korean War time, and I was invited to take the aviation cadet test, an all day battery. It wrung us out.”

Brig. Gen. Gerald Prather, en-route to a combat communications exercise at Mildenhall England, flew several British officers and a couple of his own junior officers in a Royal Air Force helicopter. “All I remember was that when we got there it was cold, raining and snowing,” Prather said, adding that, though a British officer was co-pilot, he flew the bird himself to Mildenhall. He waited half an hour for the results with 40 other boys. On a list of 10 that passed the Aviation Cadet test, Prather was included, his friend was not. “He was pretty torqued about that,” Prather said. At the age of 19, and with only a year of college under his belt, Prather enlisted in Atlanta and was sent immediately to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, for basic training. It was his first trip exceeding 75 miles from home.

He got his airman first class stripe, was sent to Goodfellow Air Force Base, near San Angelo to help maintain the B-25 Mitchell “Heavenly Body” fleet there. Then, back to Lackland for pre-cadet training. “I liked it. They gave us a place to sleep, clothes to wear, food to eat, and $40 every two weeks,” Prather said with a chuckle. Then, Prather began a seeming unending series of training assignments for a phenomenal range of kinds of aircraft, beginning with the AT-6 “Texan” trainer at Hondo Air Base, followed by the T-33 “T-Bird” at Laughlin Air Force Base. Here he met Carolyn, only three weeks before graduation, and things got serious quickly. At his 1956 graduation from Aviation Cadet pilot training, on Laughlin’s flight line, Prather’s mother pinned on his new rank insignia, and Carolyn pinned on his silver pilot’s wings. “First thing a new 2nd lieutenant does is buy a new car, and I bought a two-tone green, 1956 Pontiac for $3,200, and I proposed to Carolyn in it on a hill overlooking Lake Walk [smaller lake inundated 13 years later by Lake Amistad],” Prather said. “I told her I’d probably be dead before I turned 26 because I intended to be a fighter pilot.” Also on her mind was the lifestyle of fighter pilots as “hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-working, risk-taking, where every man was a tiger.”

While stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Brig. Gen. Prather was keenly aware that many troops in the U.S. Readiness Command were airborne qualified, so, at the age of 45, he took a few weeks to go to Fort Lee, Va. to learn parachuting. He also packed his own parachutes, and graduated – seen here – with three enlisted men, a lieutenant and two majors, Oct. 24, 1980. Then came F-84 fighter training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The nickname of the single-seat, swept-wing beast was “Thunderjet,” but Prather and his comrades called it “a ground-loving whore,” an indictment of the jet’s legendary heavy weight and poor engine thrust. “But I was a damned good pilot, and could make just about anything fly. And I still can. That served me well, and has kept me alive,” said Prather. Carolyn took a train to meet him at Luke and they were married in November, 1956, at the base chapel. He had no money at the time, so Carolyn bought the Arizona marriage license. After a three month temporary duty assignment, island-hopping an F-84 across the Atlantic to Avino, Italy, Prather came home and learned to fly the country’s first supersonic fighter, the F-100 “Super Sabre.” But not for long. With the close of the Korean War and increasing tensions with the Soviet Union, different kinds of pilots were needed, and Prather and his F-100 buddies were assigned to B-52 crews at Mather Air Force Base, Calif. Expecting to be stuck on a ground radar assignment, Prather was pleased when he ended up in the cockpit, first as a co-pilot, then as a pilot and finally as aircraft commander.

Was the transition from a sleek, fast fighter to a monster bomber daunting? “Absolutely!” Prather exclaimed. “It scared the hell out of me!” Moreover, the big bombers carried massive ordnance. “This was Cold War time, and any one of them could have won a war if they got through. They were loaded for bear,” Prather said. But high-altitude patrolling was the mission. The 24-hour patrols took Prather and his crew from California to New York, then to Greenland, the North Pole, down to Alaska, across the Aleutian Island chain, and along coast of Washington and Oregon, and back to Mather in California.

Prather points with pride to his diploma from the Air Force Technical Institute, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, graduating with a Master of Science degree in electronics and communications that set the course of his career in re-engineering the entire Air Force communications systems with integration of all data automation components. By 1961, Prather was aircraft commander, then his was a “lead crew,” next a “select” crew in the top 10 percent of the hierarchy of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). He was eligible for the rank of major, but spurned it so he could return – with Air Force tuition – to Auburn University. He finished his electrical engineering degree in two years, graduating in 1966. Though he hoped to get back to fighters – specifically the F-4 “Phantom,” Prather ended up in the C-130 “Hercules,” a four-engine turboprop cargo and tactical airlifter.

In 1967, he began flying combat support missions in Vietnam. “I flew everything from lettuce to ice, fuel in big bladders, ammunition from Da Nang, Saigon and Plei Ku to Khe Sanh and little bitty airstrips all over South Vietnam,” Prather said. He was awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” device (for valor) during the infamous 1968 Tet Offensive. At Tan Son Nhut Air Base, near Saigon, rows of aircraft became vulnerable to incoming mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. A C-130 took a direct hit, and Prather, under fire, scrambled to the flight line to move adjacent aircraft from the threat of fire.

Prather’s medals were assembled for him for presentation when he was awarded the Order of the Sword, Oct. 17, 1986, by the enlisted men and women in his last unit, the Air Force Communications Command. Two medals he values highly include the Distinguished Flying Cross, third from left, top row, and the Bronze Star with “V” (Valor) device, just below the DFC medal.

In the chaos of incoming ordnance, a fire extinguisher was dropped, exploding in Prather’s face. He was hustled away and irrigated with water. “They saved my eyes, but not my skin, so they took me to a hospital, but there I saw all the seriously wounded being brought in and I just walked right back out. Those guys were in much worse shape.” He was then sent to Cam Ranh Bay, setting up operations centers and briefing rooms for three days with no sleep. Finally a lieutenant colonel ordered him to bed, threatening court martial if he refused.

Later in 1968, Prather ferried fresh marines and ammunition from Phan Rang to Tam Ky, a marine-controlled village south of Da Nang, along the coast of the South China Sea. The marines on the ground and nearby Army units were under attack, and badly needed the re-supply, but they and the landing strip were concealed under dense cloud cover. Prather flew out to sea to descend below the clouds, and then flew back to the marines underneath the overcast receiving small arms fire. “I was hearing this ‘thump, thump … thump,’ and heard another pilot scream, ‘I’m getting fired on,’” Prather said.

Prather verbally guided the other pilot into Tam Ky, then followed using the same procedure. On landing, his flight engineer pointed out dripping holes in the bird’s fuel tank, and Prather ordered them jammed with segments of carved broom sticks. Prather’s plane and the other craft, also with plugged holes, sustained more hits on takeoff. Landing in Saigon, both aircraft were pulled aside for repairs. Prather’s plane had taken 48 hits. “And no one was hurt. Isn’t that wonderful?” Prather enthused. For this successful mission, ingenuity and bravado, Prather received the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for “Heroism or extraordinary achievement … in aerial flight.” “But my favorite mission, was one to Khe Sanh during monsoons after the Tet Offensive of 1968. No one could get in there because of the clouds, but I finally found a little hole in the clouds one day, and dropped through it with re-supply of ammunition,” Prather recalled. Hoping for a quick exit, he ordered the cargo kicked out the back door, but got a message from his loadmaster. “We’ve got a problem back here, Boss. I’ve got a load of 100 marines back here packed and ready to go.” The war-weary troops had scrambled aboard before the cargo door could be closed. “Our authorized load was about 60, but these guys were all red with mud, so we just jammed them in there and took off anyway. And I’d do it again,” said Prather.

Maj. Gen. Gerald Prather, in “mess dress” uniform, and Mrs. Carolyn Prather pause for a portrait during an annual, formal Christmas dinner for all officers and their wives and senior leaders in the community at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., about 1985. “The missions I hated the most over there were carrying out the body bags. With a lot, all you can do is stack them up like cordwood, and their body fluids are leaking onto the airplane, and the stench was horrible because the bags had been lying out in the sun for who knows how long. When you’re carrying 50 or 60 KIAs out at one time, it’s just bad news all the way around,” Prather said, eyes moistening. Prather flew 500 support missions in Vietnam in the C-130, commenting, “And none of them were routine.” Pinning on the brass oak leaves insignia of major, he returned to the United States, after 13 months “in country” in July, 1968.

Back-to-back directed assignments were to commands of communication squadrons at Chanute Air Force Base and Scott Air Force Base, both in Illinois. “When people ask how I got into the communications business, I say, ‘I don’t know, can’t even spell it,” Prather quipped. In truth, his degree in electrical engineering and an Air Force on the threshold of sweeping, global changes in communications technology forecast the marriage. Promoted to lieutenant colonel a year earlier than protocol permitted, Prather was sent back to school, to the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In less than a year, Prather completed his Master of Science degree with a thesis on communications electronics meteorological program management, for which he received the Commandant’s Trophy because it revealed systemic efficiencies that could actually be implemented, Air Force wide.

With the Strategic Air Command at March Air Force Base, Calif., a trio of colonels interviewed Prather and asked, bluntly, “Do you want to make general?” to which Prather – shocked – replied, “Yes, I think I’d make a good general.” He was promoted to colonel – seven years ahead of the norm – and was reassigned to Air Force offices in the Pentagon. “So I went to Washington D.C. in 1972 with my wife, four kids, a dog, and a cat. I’m just a little country boy trying to get along in the big city, and I was a little nervous. They called me up there to implement my thesis,” Prather explained.

Maj. Gen. Prather at his desk in the Pentagon, serving as assistant chief of staff of Air Force information systems in which he planned and merged all communications and data automation systems for the service. “It was an extremely challenging job for three years, developing the first satellite communication systems for the Air Force. For example, we needed to be able to send code words during the Cold War to all the B-52s flying, and we had to have cryptographic security for all the communication systems, from telephones to the satellites.” At Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Neb., Prather went underground. In the command post beneath SAC headquarters, Prather was deputy chief of staff for communications and electronics, always in communication with – and sometimes riding in – a command-post-modified KC-135 “Stratotanker,” always airborne to take over command of SAC if nuclear war destroyed the base. For his work in support of below-ground missile bases scattered in remote locations across the northern tier of states, Prather was awarded the Minuteman Missile Badge. Prather became first commander of a Strategic Communications Area – 1975-1977 – then transferred to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as deputy chief of staff for U.S. Air Force Europe (USAFE), in charge of all communications in European and Mediterranean countries – 1977-1980 – and was promoted to brigadier general in 1979.

Prather’s official U.S. Air Force portrait following the 1983 announcement of his rank as major general. In 1980, Prather left Germany for MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, becoming the senior communications officer for the U.S. Readiness Command – now U.S. Central Command, CENTCOM, running the wars in the Middle East – in which he developed the first war plans for an invasion of Iraq. “We also had plans for invasion of all the Middle Eastern countries to respond to any tactical needs that may arise there where we have potential for certain levels of conflict; they’ve all been modified many times, but we began the planning back then,” Prather explained. At MacDill, Prather received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

Back to the Pentagon in 1981 with broadened communications responsibilities, Prather was awarded his second star (1983), and ordered to implement his plan to merge all Air Force communications and data automations functions throughout the service. He was named assistant chief of staff of information systems. Two years later, Prather was moved into the top slot of his career, commander of the Air Force Communications Command, assigned at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Here he was leader of one of the most pivotal organizational transitions in the history of the Air Force, and oversaw an immense command of 60,000 people in 747 units, squadrons and wings. “The communications command is still everyplace the Air Force is, and a whole lot of places the Air Force isn't,” Prather said with a wink. In 1986, Prather retired, closing out a 32-year, immensely gratifying and productive career. “They wanted me to go back to Washington for a third star [lieutenant general] and another five years, but I just didn’t want to go back to that political environment, and we were tired,” Prather said. “The kids call Del Rio home, and I love the people here. I don’t regret a bit of it.” But his troops wouldn’t let Prather slip away easily. NCOs in his last command started a petition among 50,000 enlisted personnel in the communications command, worldwide, to honor Prather with the Order of the Sword, a commendation from the enlisted ranks for service rendered in a distinguished career. “Chief Master Sgt. Jeremiah T. Hayes started a petition before I even left, and I knew nothing about it. It’s a thing where all the enlisted personnel have to sign the petition or at least not say ‘No.’ Even a single blackball kills it,” Prather explained.

There was no blackball, only overwhelming support from the enlisted ranks, and the sponsors bought airline tickets for the Prather's to return to Scott on Oct. 17, 1986 for the presentation. “They reserved the entire officers’ club, and it was completely full of visiting troops who put on a show that watered my eyes, literally,” Prather said. “It was an absolutely beautiful, formal military ceremony.” In the history of the Order of the Sword, only 226 men and women have been selected, including comedian Bob Hope, Gen. Curtis LeMay, and Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger. Prather was number 111. When he moved to Del Rio, he was immediately hired as a defense contractor’s consultant, and was traveling more than he wanted. He launched a second career in civic service to an imponderable list of organizations, all aimed at improving the community of Del Rio in a dazzling variety of tasks. At the behest of Val Verde County Commissioner James S. Leonard, Prather became Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace, serving for a decade. He created the Justice Juvenile Court with the help of Administrative Assistant Otila Gonzalez. In the first year, he heard 401 juvenile cases, requiring the participation of parents or guardians. In 1997, Prather was elected president of the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce, and he remains an active life member of the board of directors. He also participates on the Convention and Visitors Bureau committee and the Special Projects Committee of the chamber, and is also a life director and vice president of the Military Affairs Association.

In the 1990s, Prather was on the board of the United Way, and was president for two years. He is Eagle Scout advancement chairman for the Amistad District of the Boy Scouts of America and was district chairman for three years. Prather has been a member of Lions Clubs for 50 years, has served here as vice president of the Host Lions Club, and still serves as chaplain. Ordained as a lay Eucharistic minister, Prather served in that capacity with St. James Episcopal Church for three years, as senior warden of the vestry for three years, and as a trustee for five years. He was also a chaplain for the Juvenile Detention Center, 1994-2005, and continues as chaplain at Val Verde Regional Medical Center. “My philosophy has not been to seek employment, but to seek service to the community. The major result, of course, is that I know almost everyone in this community, and they know me, and I pride myself on that,” Prather said. His pride extends to continuing warm relationships with Laughlin Air Force Base, including the last 15 commanders of the 47th Flying Training Wing. Brig. Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and Prather were good friends when Wolters commanded here at Laughlin, 2004-2006. “Tod used to call me the secretary of defense of west Texas,” Prather said, chuckling.

Though Prather is gratified about his service to youth in Del Rio with the juvenile court system, ROTC at Del Rio High School, and the Boy Scouts, the military man will not let go. He serves now on the board of directors of the Laughlin Heritage Foundation, and remains available for military service if needed. Though retired, Prather is never completely off the hook if his nation needs.

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   

A COMBAT STORY

By Lt/Col C.T. Anthony

As I sat there on Christmas Day 2007, I couldn’t help but recall Christmas celebrations of the past. I'm sure that you do the same. Many bring back very pleasant memories and others, maybe not so good. One Christmas which always comes to mind for me is Christmas, 1966.

The date, December 24, 1966. As a Staff Sergeant 0369, I had recently arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to Delta Co. 1/26 which at that time was operating off of Hill 55 southwest of Danang. The Company was short of Lieutenants so I was assigned as Platoon Leader for the 1st Platoon. My Platoon Sergeant was a Sergeant with lots of experience in Vietnam and the Marine Corps. He had almost as much time in the Corps as I had but was not what you would call a "garrison Marine". He had been busted a couple of times for relatively minor offenses but was an outstanding combat leader.

On Christmas Eve, my platoon was given the mission of setting up ambushes on Liberty Road to prevent the VC from laying mines and planting booby traps. There was supposed to be some type of truce in effect but the VC still placed mines and booby traps out regardless of any truce. This would be my first time to take the platoon out as their leader and to say the least, I was a little nervous and apprehensive. I didn't really think that we would see any real action but the thought was still on my mind as to how I would react if we did encounter the enemy. I had been in the Corps for a little over 12 years and although I had extensive experience in the infantry field, those were years of relative peace. I had never experienced any type of actual combat. Yes, I had been on many live fire ranges where we did a lot of firing of various weapons but never had I been on the receiving end of enemy fire. I had heard of how others had reacted, some very bravely and others, totally terrified. As leader of the platoon, I hoped that I wouldn't be one of the latter.

Around 2000 hrs, we left the Hill and were about 500 yards from the Hill on Liberty Road when we received automatic fire from a small village to the west of the road. With columns on both sides of the road and well spread out, two Marines were still wounded. Needless to say, when the initial rounds came into our formation, my ass puckered but I was happy to find out that the training I had received allowed me to automatically react as I had been trained to do. Sure there was a certain amount of fright but this didn't keep me from doing what needed to be done. I passed the first test. A great feeling. The automatic fire stopped after we returned fire with our own weapons as well 81MM mortar fire which because there had been problems in that area before, were ready to respond as soon as we made the call for support. We evacuated our wounded back to the Hill then continued to move down the road where we then set in our ambushes. We never received any more fire that night nor did we see any of the VC. It rained all night and with just a poncho to try and stay dry and warm, made for a miserable evening. That was how we welcomed Christmas, 1966. In the morning, we hiked back to Hill 55 and spent the day there cleaning our gear, getting some rest and wishing each other a Merry Christmas. No snow but lots of rain.

That also was my introduction to leading a platoon in combat. I was happy with the way that I had reacted but happier with the Marines in the platoon. Many of them had been in Country for some time and had lots of combat experience. They knew exactly what to do. In fact, several of them were combat tested vets of Operation Hastings, the first major Marine Corps operation conducted in the fall of 1966 in the DMZ area, so to them, taking just a few rounds of incoming fire was not a big thing. "Pineapple", my Platoon Sergeant, was so calm I don't think he even hit the deck when the rounds were coming into our position. I can't say that I did the same. That also was my introduction to the frustrations of fighting the VC in the area of Hill 55. Lots of planted mines, booby traps and hit and run tactics with seldom ever having the chance to really engage the enemy. It seemed that every time we went out on patrol we suffered casualties of some type to either enemy fire, booby traps or mines and most times, never saw the enemy. For me it was very frustrating and seemed like a hell of a way to fight a war. They were like an invisible enemy.

So as we take time to celebrate Christmas, this is also a time to remember those service men and women of all wars not here to celebrate with us, but especially those with whom we fought. For many Marines and other service personnel serving in Vietnam on December 25, that Christmas of 1966 would be the last Christmas they would ever know. They gave all while fighting a War that they didn't fully understand or maybe didn't even agree with, but still continued to serve their Country with pride. The question that haunts those of us who survived that War is why them and not us? Such a question doesn't really have an answer but haunts all survivors of war.
I know that each of you have your own stories and memories but I just wanted to share this one with you. This is special to me.

To all, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year. Continue to pray for and remember those on the frontlines of defending our great Country. They too will have their own special memories of their Christmas of 2007.

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   

BATTLES REMEMBERED
FOXTROT RIDGE

By Captain Rob Robinson

A narrow ridgeline 1,000 feet high, just south of the DMZ, now has a name. FOXTROT RIDGE. Until a company of US Marines moved up onto the ridge in December it was just another unnamed hill. Overgrown with thick jungle. But the men of 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marines can tell you about it. And somewhere in the hellish green tangles on other DMZ ridge, elements of a battered NVA battalion can well remember it too.
Behind the Ridges new name came a tale of courage and grim determination

Waiting on the ridgeline Was an estimated company of fully-armed, well trained, hardcore NVA. They were prepared to defend a bunker complex housing their battalion headquarters: explained Lt. Col. Joseph C. Hopkins commanding officer of the Marine battalion. Crouched inside their bunkers with automatic weapons, the enemy had their orders. Defend the hill to the death was the plan, later revealed by a prisoner captured inside one of the bunkers.

Three days of sporadic fighting, constantly moving forward, had placed an infantry company by Captain Richard J. Murphy in a position atop a nearby mountain. We dug in for the night, put out our listening post, and all was quiet except for our Marine Mortars and artillery, firing to seal off possible avenues of enemy movements, “ said Cpl Richard E Durkee, a radio operator.” About 7:30 a.m. we started to move eastward along the ridge. The hilltop dropped of into a saddle and started up again toward another crest, said Durkee. “As soon as the point man reached the top and started down, the enemy took the lead element under fire.”

The narrow trail with sheer cliffs on both sides, made it impossible for leathernecks to deploy immediately. They continued to press forward on the path, despite the enemy fire. "At first the firing came from several bunkers hidden among the trees on a slope halfway up the next hill, “added Durkee, who was on his second tour in Vietnam. The initial burst of fire subsided. Captain Murphy got his men on line with two platoons assaulting down into a draw and up towards the bunkers already observed. Murphy, who was due to leave Vietnam and return home the next day, alerted the Battalion commander by radio and began the attack. The foe waited.

When we got into the draw deep in a wooded area thick with jungle growth and vines, all hell broke loose, said Cpl Thomas L. Kilduff who was following the action and keeping abreast of it on the radio he carried. A machinegun immediately pinned down a squad on the left flank. On the other flank another gun opened fire, killing the platoon commander and pinning down the rest of the Marines, “Kilduff continued. “ By that time it was 9:00 a.m. and the bullets were thicker than anything I had ever seen in my 12 months in Vietnam.” Marines kept moving forward into the fire from the bunkers. A platoon was called up from another company and moved down the trail. They headed into the ravine to maneuver around the bunkers.

"They passed right by two enemy bunkers without, seeing them. They were just too well hidden,” said Kilduff. The bunkers opened fire catching some of the men in crossfire. Back up on the' ridge, Marines quickly set up the machineguns and mortars to give covering fire to those in the draw.

"As the battle grew in intensity. Cpl. Durkee and two others made it down the trail and got to one of the enemy bunkers," added Kilduff. "Using the bunker for protection they fired at other bunkers below. Even while shooting, Durkee, who had been wounded in the hand continued to talk on the radio. He was concerned about his wounded buddies in the ravine and was trying to get them out

Hearing cries of the wounded below. Durkee radioed to a Marine twin engine Bronco circling over­head and called for the pilot to fire smoke rockets directly at his position to screen the wounded with

thick smoke. Screaming in at treetop level, the Bronco pilot fired his rockets, the exploding rockets sending thick smoke in every direction. The wounded that could walk got up and started to help the others up the hill. Our gun had been fired so fast that it had burned out and we were out of ammunition. I radioed up to the crest and asked for another weapon and more ammo:'

While waiting for the ammo, Durkee threw grenades at several of the bunkers while other Marines rushed in to assist the wounded. Kilduff heard Durkee’s call for ammunition and radioed him to “hang tight”, a weapon and ammunition were on the way down to their position. Kilduff put down his radio and with two volunteers, 2nd Lt George B. Rogers, and L/Cpl John R. Donnley, ran to Durkee’s position.

When they got there, Durkee was now firing at the enemy with his pistol. Lt Rogers after reaching Durkee’s bunker dashed several times to the ravine to assist the wounded. One of the enemy soldiers who had been routed from his position managed to creep within 30 yards of Kilduff, Donnley and Durkee before opening fire on them. Donnley threw a grenade and killed him.

The wounded had all been removed from the ravine and Marine & Navy jets went into action, firing rockets and dropping their bombs just in front of the Marine advancing on the enemy bunkers. The Arial support was magnificent, the best we have ever seen, exclaimed Lt/Col Hopkins.

On some of their runs the pilots placed their ordinance only 50 yards ahead of our men. At times the Marines ran out of signaling devices and resorted to lighting heat tablets to mark their positions for the planes.

The ridge looked like a wild moonscape, with broken and charred trees, split by bullets and large pieces of shrapnel., giving silent evidence of the fierce battle that took place.

There are not enough words to describe the pride I felt for the men who took that ridge, concluded Lt/Col Hopkins.

The Marines left the ridge with 3,000 enemy uniforms, 2,000 pounds of Rice, a complete enemy mortar, and enough ammunition and weapons to keep a NVA regiment from waging an all day battle. They also accounted for 46 Enemy dead.

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   

Near Self-Destruction

By Gene Weresow

February 1967, Mike Company Third Battalion 26th Marines were on a search and destroy mission, as a part of Operation Chinook. We were operating near the Co Bi-Than Tan Corridor of the Thua Thien Province South Vietnam. Only weeks before, Company M was engaged in one of the first battles against the 802nd Viet Cong Battalion. Which saw the death of Marine Lance Corporal Paul Evans, KIA firing the 3.5 rocket launcher, while he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire. Camp Evans was later named in his honor. It was initially a Marine base later taken over by the Army.

On this day the monsoon rains fell relentlessly. It seemed the more miserable we became the more the rain fell. It was our job to sweep a certain area to clear it of VC activity. The sweep started out routine, with no contact. As the day progressed we were subjected to more and more sniper fire. Later we were to sweep through a Hamlet that was suspected of harboring VC. It was late in the day and we had little time to reach our objective before nightfall, some nameless hill where we would set into a defensive position for the night. Our progress was slow because of numerous booby traps that took their toll. We encountered every thing from punji traps to buried 105 MM rounds. It was at this time that we lost one of our M-60 gunners, L/Cpl David Frischmann, a good guy with a big heart; I knew him well, as I did other KIA and WIA from that day. His death stands out in my mind more than the others because I was very close to him when he set down his M-60 onto a rice patty dike. He hit a 105 round, the concussion sent me sprawling into the rice patty as I watched his charred remains sail over me. To my amazement I survived without a scratch. The image of those charred remains, of a friend and fellow warrior will be with me always.

Because of casualties and medevacs we were running further and further behind in reaching our objective for the day. Moving through the village we came upon a several underground shelters, not much more than a hole in the ground with room for maybe 2 or 3 people, I guess they were used by VC or the locals to avoid shelling or to hide from anyone who was perceived as enemies. The monsoon rains continued to fall; it was near dusk as we sloshed through the mud, clad in ponchos which did little to keep us dry. I came across one of those holes in the ground as I looked down I could see a small entrance with support timbers on either side. At this point rather than going down or doing further investigation, we were told to just throw a grenade into it and keep moving. Recalling my training, I figured I would wind up and throw it hard so that it would either bounce around or stick in the mud, not giving the enemy any time to pick it up and throw it back. Yelling “fire in the hole”, I wound up and gave it a mighty heave. I watched the grenade fly down the hole, strike one of the supports and just as quickly fly right back out. Yelling grenade I started to run, tripped on the poncho and fell face first into the mud. I thought, oh no, I’m dead. Luckily there was no one else nearby. Thinking get up and run-no not enough time-so I buried my face in the mud and hoped for the best. The explosion was deafening but I survived unharmed. There was a lot of confusion from other guys thinking that we had an enemy throwing a grenade at us. Once I explained what happened I thought I was in a world of trouble, the platoon commander just said, lets move out. We did roll another grenade into the hole.

I often thought about that day, and wondered how many guys actually died by their own hand, I would guess that this experience was not unique in combat.
It was one lesson learned the hard way. It was my first, but not my last, close encounter with a hand grenade.

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   

MEMORIES

By Denny Bowers B Co 1/26

Forty years ago, Ocean Pines resident Denny Bowers and many other veterans were surrounded by the North Vietnamese in the Battle of Khe Sanh, one of the many battles caused by the Tet offensive of 1968.

"We were surrounded by somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand North Vietnamese," Bowers said. "When you're surrounded, you're surrounded."

Bowers said where he was stationed was a very small part of the entire country, and the country as a whole saw attacks due to the Tet offensive.

"Historians are still trying to figure out what the North Vietnamese really wanted to do," he said. "There are two schools of thought  either create a diversion or take and overrun the combat base -- but no one really knows."

Sarge Garlitz of the Worcester County American Legion said events that transpired were misinterpreted by the press and subsequently American citizens.

"Many have not been honored because of the way the liberal press had it turned around," Garlitz said. "When the soldiers returned they were shunned." But Garlitz wants to honor them now on the 40th anniversary of the Tet offensive.

"It is not to celebrate the Tet but to recognize the anniversary," he said.

On Thursday, Jan. 31 a wreath was placed on the Worcester County Veteran's memorial in memory of the beginning of the Tet offensive.

"I just want to give them a nice pat on the back and thank them," he said. "I was not at the Tet offensive; I was in other parts of the world, but I just think it is right that we can honor those who were there."

Garlitz came to the decision to honor the anniversary through a discussion with a colleague.

"An associate of mine was at the Tet and he got the silver star for it," he said. "He informed me of a rededication and I couldn't attend so I thought, why not have recognition in Worcester County?" To his knowledge, Garlitz is the only person holding a service on the 31st.

"Kansas proclaimed recognition of the 30th anniversary and wanted to get the governor of each state to recognize it in the future but someone dropped the ball," he said. "I'm just picking it up as county commander."

Now that he's started it, Garlitz is receiving feedback from veterans who want to attend.

"People are coming out of the woodwork for the way they were treated when they came back from Vietnam," he said. "We have a lot of people around that really are in awe because Worcester County is going to recognize those for serving in a victory that was called a defeat at the time in 1968. Instead of making those guys heroes they made them into martyrs."

He hopes a member of each service will give a short prayer at the memorial and then veterans can come to the American Legion post on Saturday, Feb. 2 to share their stories.

"I just want the public to know that these people are heroes and I think it is serious," he said.

Bowers, who is not only a veteran but the Vice President of the Veteran's Memorial board, agreed and wanted the public to just have the knowledge.

"If nothing else, the purpose of this is to bring the American people to the realization of its occurrence, and it shouldn't be forgotten," he said.


CLIMBING HILL 881S
FROM THE SOUTHERN SLOPE

By Reverend Ray W. Stubbe

Just a short note. I was cleaning our some piles of papers in my basement you know what an absolute mess of quantity of "stuff" there is in my basement! I came across this "Beetle Bailey" comic strip that 1 had copied this summer. You perhaps don't know this personally from your time at Khe Sanh, but perhaps you do, since many hills in Vietnam were this way. But I do recall that on the very first time 1 accompanied a patrol off of Hill 881-South, a platoon from A Co 1/26 (commanded at the time by Captain John Raymond), that we returned to the hill via the south slope. We had left by the very steep north slope, which is about a 60-degree (or greater) slope, mostly falling down rather than "walking" down, and this was the slope by which the hill was attacked by our Marines during the 1967 Hill Battles! I found it very difficult to comprehend how Marines could fight UP the hill in that situation.

Anyway, the SOUTH slope is like that portrayed in this comic strip. After about eight hours of solid up and down sharp hills, through rivers strewn with very large boulders, through thickets of bamboo and elephant grass so tall I frequently lost sight of the Marine in front and the Marine behind me, and became temporarily lost (in an area where we all knew enemy might be lurking), elephant grass that painfully cut like sharp razors, as we were all panting heavily, leg muscles aching, somewhat delirious and nauseated, we were approaching our position on Hill 881South. It was the late afternoon and I was so very, very relieved!

Then, as I got to the top of what I thought was Hill 881South, I suddenly realized I had climbed only part of the approach-another hill with a much longer and also steeper slope, lay before me! How discouraging, how dispiriting, how outrageous!! At that point, I didn't think I could go on. I was 29, grossly out of shape (I had just come on active duty after about a week's notice while finishing up a year at the University of Chicago in a Ph.D. program on "ethics and society", and before that, a year organizing a new congregation, and before that, seven years in college and the seminary so I was flabby, and overweight!) A corpsman on that patrol gave me some of the water in his canteen, and when I finally reached the company CP on top of Hill 881-South, Captain Raymond gave me some precious fruit juice and I gradually became re-hydrated.

That experience, however, determined how I lived for the next several months, mid-July through November of 1967. I'd fly out to one of the outposts (Hills 881-South, 861, 950, Lang Vei Special Forces Camp, or walk out to the nearby CAP OSCAR CP just outside KSCB, visit with the men there, hold a worship service after the evening re-supply, and after the platoon patrol returned, remained overnight in one of the troop's bunkers, before I’d go out on re-supply to the next hill. I did this Monday through Saturday, returning to KSCB Saturday, in order to hold three worship services on the main base.

On Sunday (at the 1/26 mess hall, at Ponderosa area for 3/26 (until September, when they left for Operation KINGFISHER), at and HQ Battery of 1/13 in the western area of the base). On Sunday night I went out to CAP OSCAR-3, spent the night with them after a worship service, and usually accompanied a CAP patrol into the Bru Villages on Monday morning.

I thought of all these things because of this simple-drawn cartoon from "Beetle Bailey!" Those who served on Hill 881-South and patrolled from it (mainly the different line com­mies of 1/26, and perhaps some from 3/26) are the ones who might also recall that southern slope of that hill.


 

 

 

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   

 EASTER SUNDAY 40 YEARS AGO

By Mike ''Animal'' Preston

Do any of you have any memories of Sunday April 16th 1968? I sure do. I remember that day with great clarity, or so I thought until I read a letter at home that I found amongst my mothers papers. She passed a while back and some boxes didn't get examined at that time. About 9 months ago I was doing just that when I came across all the letters I had written my folks during my tour, WOW! what a revelation!

It made it very apparent how the mind and memory can get things screwed up in 40 years. Amongst her letters was letter from a lady friend who lived in Shreveport, La. who informed my mom that I was in an AP wire story in the Shreveport Times. The article was written by Jurarte Kazickas for AP wire services. I called the Shreveport Times and they were glad to send it to me.

This was Jurate's 2nd trip to Khe Sanh, she was there the first time the 7th to 8th of March. She was wounded along with Lt. Bill Gay and 3 others. She went down to Dong Ha to D med I think. Well this ballzy lady came back with operation Pegasus for more. She interviewed three of us, myself, Frank Faur, and Cpl. Al Brewster. Amazing courage to come to a place like Khe Sanh when one did not have to be there; reminds my of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone.

Jurate was a tall (6') raven haired beauty, certainly memorable. Frank Faur remembered her with great clarity. I had a little fun with Frank by calling him up anonymously and asked the question ''How Many Easter Eggs Did You Get In 1968! He of course thought this was some kind of nut (he was right) or a crank call. I yanked his chain for a few minutes until I didn't figure he was going to take any more, then I told him who I was. You are now wondering what the hell am I talking about, huh? Well when you read the following article it will become clear and then you can have a good laugh too! Give him a call he lives in ''Joysey'' now, not far from ''Big John''.

EASTER EGGS

By JURATE KAZICKAS

KHE SANH, Easter Sunday 16 April 1968

Six thousand Easter eggs arrived by helicopter at Khe Sanh this foggy Sunday morning. Two minutes later six mortar and rocket rounds exploded on the air strip, wounding three Marines.

"They told us there were Easter eggs on the strip," said Marine PFC Frank Faur, Easton, PA. "I went to check them out and then those rounds started coming in. They say the siege of Khe Sanh is over. Who are they trying to kid?"

This was Easter at Khe Sanh. Religious services were held at the base early in the morning, but the men in the field, outside the barbed wire perimeter, had no time for organized prayer. Five miles away, on Hill 881 North, units of the 26th Marine Regiment were fighting an estimated battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers in a bitter struggle to take the hill. Contact continued all day. More than a dozen dirty men with bandaged hands, heads and feet came limping off the choppers from Hill 881 to await evacuation to the medical station at Dong Ha. They had missed the incoming rounds by only a few seconds.

The sun finally broke through the thick clouds, and the uneasiness brought on by the morning attack diminished. Billows of red dust from Jeeps and trucks covered the Marines as they worked near their bunkers, packing their gear. The Marines have been relieved at Khe Sanh by Army troops of the 1st Air Calvary Division. The Leathernecks are expected to be gone in three or four days. " Easter? Yeah, I heard about it on the radio," one Marine said. "I celebrated by jumping into a hole."

Word spread that Easter eggs were to be flown up from Da Nang and distributed. By mid afternoon Marines were carrying pink and green tinted eggs in their helmets. Most of the egg shells were cracked. Some eggs were raw inside, but the men didn't seem to mind. "The last time I had eggs was three months ago," said Cpl. Al Brewster, of Delhart, TX. "I can't believe we got them. Its a nice surprise."

Waiting to leave, the Marines made jokes about the eggs, and about the 1st Cav painting their insignia all over the base like they had been there all along or had ''saved'' the Marines, and joking about the end of two long months of incoming artillery. "Am I glad to be getting out of this place," said Seabee Mike Preston of Arnold, California, both of his hands bandaged. "That is what happy Easter means"


     Well now you know about the Great Easter Egg Hunt , why didn't they bring beer? Oh, I remember, they already had beer to go along with their steak sandwich's. I tried to buy some of their beer but they just laughed and said no. Well what was I to do ? Being a SeaBee, I had attained the rank of ''Master Comshaw Artist'' so I offered them a bottle of ''Mikie’s Magic Elixir'' which was furnished by Sean Flynn for rack rent in the ''Hilton'', and it worked . I hope they all got drunk.

While I am on the subject of comshaw I just have to stray from Easter for a moment and relate a little episode involving myself and ''Flash'' Mytnic,( I think ). We had a conex box buried for a supply bunker in our equipment yard. A young Marine appeared and said he needed some nails for the CP, I replied, “ what do you have to trade?” He informed me that Col. Lownds wanted the nails and he could not believe that someone would shake down a Colonel. He left only to return later with a large can of ''real'' coffee! I bet the Colonel never knew. I always wondered? One thing for sure is the coffee came from ''officer country'' and we celebrated with a good cup and some stashed pecan rolls.

Back to Easter Sunday: I am not sure of exact days and dates that things happened, any input would be welcome. I think the siege was officially over on the 8th, and the incoming all but stopped, I recall it got ''spooky'' quiet. Enter the ''Cav.'' I remember them going around without pots and flak jackets; we on the other hand wore ours even to the ''chic sales''; they thought we were nuts.

We had a area for people waiting to be flown out. It was a square of sand bags 4-5 feet high in a square 20 foot square. I was not hurt all that bad, and just hung out letting others who were hurt badly go on to DaNang. When the incoming came in, I thought to my self, yes ''Sir Charles'' just sprung the trap, let some people get complacent then ''Kerblaam''. If memory serves me correctly they ''walked'' the rounds down the runway from about the center of the strip, 150 yards or so from us, towards the south east end of the runway where the ''Cavs'' helos were staged. I remember a bunch of guys running to the helos and then getting the hell out of there. Did they ever come back ? I don't know because I got a flight out a couple of hours later. If someone has an answer for me, I’d sure would like to know. I recall reading something about it in Ray’s book but it escapes my mind

Whomever said the ''siege '' was over sure as hell didn't think about hills 881 and 689, and others too many to mention. There was a young Marine on a litter laying next to me who had come off of 881. I don't think he even owned a razor, yet his career in the NFL as a place kicker wasn't going to happen, that was for sure. I held a smoke for him as best I could, he never shed a tear or complained once, brave young man, real Marine grit.

My outfit lost one of our own that day (even though the siege was “over” ). SWF2 Edward ''Cody'' Adams was KIA by arty. I must have a leak in my roof because there are water drops hitting my key board as I write. I sense I will move away from this morbid subject now, and compose myself and regain my sense of humor.

The Marine Corps is certainly the stepchild of the services, when it comes to budget! The helo that I got a ride out on was a CH-34 piston engine job. I am pretty sure, some were retrofitted to gas turbine but I don't think this one was. This was definitely Korean vintage aircraft. Just think it was probably older than most of its passengers! Not me, I was 24. After surviving Khe Sanh your mind starts doing strange things. I started to think of all the guys who died leaving in a chopper or a plane!

My outfit lost a First class BU Charles Spillman just that way! As I gazed at this flying antique it struck me funny that the pilot was sitting right above a big red cross. I thought wow, what a good aiming point for the NVA. Hells-bells why not a cross-hair or a bulls-eye ''YIPE”!

Well here is the punch line to this whole article, I have perfect clarity about that day. I can see it in my minds eye at will. But to semi steal a quote from a past president who said ''I do not remember that women''! How could I not remember a beautiful round-eye after not seeing one for 5 to 6 months? To much morphine? Distracted by more important things-the wounded around me-concern for them? That is what I remember most vividly for sure, the frustration of not being able to do more for them. I have that same feeling now when I assist a disabled vet now, wishing I could do more, but I do get a lot of satisfaction from what I can do for them. I am really sorry I don't remember Jurate, but with any luck I will meet her some day, maybe in Reno.

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
   

Carlton W. Kent
Sergeant Major of the US Marine Corps

 

Submited by
Dave Kniess

Sergeant Major Carlton W. Kent
HEADQUARTERS MARINE CORPS
Jan. 28, 2008

“I am an NCO dedicated to training new Marines and influencing the old. I am forever conscious of each Marine under my charge, and by example will inspire him to the highest standards possible. I will strive to be patient, understanding, just, and firm. I will commend the deserving and encourage the wayward. I will never forget that I am responsible to my Commanding Officer for the morale, discipline, and efficiency of my men. Their performance will reflect an image of me.” (Noncommissioned Officers Creed, Headquarters Marine Corps Promotions Branch)

I can remember the day I got promoted to NCO like it was yesterday. Pinning on that extra stripe didn’t just mean extra pay or privileges, it meant I’d achieved a rank that is not taken lightly and is highly respected by all throughout the Marine Corps. That promotion will always be one of the proudest moments in my career.

I have no doubt that getting promoted to NCO is as momentous an occasion for junior Marines nowadays as it was for me back when I got promoted. It was for that reason alone that I felt just as insulted as all of the NCOs around the Corps when I read the “Baby NCOs” story in the Marine Corps Times a couple months ago. Regardless of the story subject, there will never be a time and a place that the words “baby NCO” could be used to accurately describe junior Marines – never!

Getting promoted to any rank in the Marine Corps is an accomplishment and to insinuate that the Corps’ new batch of NCOs is going to be any less deserving than their predecessors is absurd. If anything, Marines of this day and age are just as combat hardened and have as great a responsibility as their predecessors. Undeniably the Marine Corps Times supported its story with a memo from the Center for Naval Analyses, but even the analysis didn’t show the reader the complete Marine.

About half of the Marine Corps is made up of Marines in the ranks of private through corporal; nearly 70,000 Marines are ages 21 and below. It’s these young, junior Marines – through the mentorship of the Corps’ great staff noncommissioned officers – who will be carving out the future of the Marine Corps for all to follow. As the senior enlisted Marine in the Corps, I have witnessed the great things the Corps’ small-unit leaders are doing both on and off the battlefield.

I have seen Marine NCOs serving in combat in billets one, two, even three ranks higher than their rank dictates – and in some cases, officer billets. I’ve witnessed junior Marines barely old enough to vote and definitely not old enough to drink, make split-second decisions on the battlefield that saved the lives of many of their fellow Marines.

I’ve read countless award summaries describing heroic acts by Marines wearing the very rank the Marine Corps Times insulted. I’ve seen severely wounded Marines more concerned with not letting their fellow Marines down by leaving the battlefield, than they were with receiving life-saving medical treatment. I’ve visited numerous hospitals where Marine NCOs struggled to rehabilitate themselves in order to simply walk 10 feet after surviving an IED blast in Iraq.

And sadly enough, I’ve said a silent prayer for the more than 300 Marine NCOs who have given their lives during Operations Iraqi/Enduring Freedom. I’m confident that in five, 10 or 15 years, it will be Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Jason Dunham or the more than 30 junior Marines who have received either the Navy Cross or Silver Star who will grace the pages of Marine Corps history books. These are the kinds of Marines that are going to be filling the future ranks of the Marine Corps, regardless of what some reporter wants to imply. So when I read a story that mentions anything but praise for the thousands of Marine NCOs around the globe, I feel it is my duty to speak out – it is the right thing to do. I will never sit idle and let anyone speak negatively about the Marines serving in the Corps. he Corps is extremely proud of the Marines serving today and I’m especially proud of the junior Marines who, as I once did, strive to achieve the rank of NCO – one of the best ranks in the Marine Corps. I trust that when promoted, each new NCO will take the NCO Creed to heart and will never let the Corps down.

   
       
       
         
 
 
 
         
         
         
 
 

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