A Vietnam Veteran Returns to Vietnam

A Vietnam Veteran Army Retiree Returns to Vietnam – Again.

By Lou Rothenstein

I had previous trips to Vietnam after the War. One was a working one, the other was a healing return tour with Soldier’s Heart for Vietnam Veterans in 2012. My wife was with me on this tour and as a Nurse, decided she wanted to return to do some medical volunteer service. We did this over a couple of weeks with Vets With A Mission, a nongovernmental organization that has been doing medical care work in Vietnam for 28 years. We then traveled to several world heritage sites and I needed to return to see a bit of Saigon.

After four years in Europe and the Middle East – a great first four years of Army service – I was assigned to a CONUS stateside four-star HQ. Sort of a boring let down. I volunteered for overseas again. Vietnam came into my life shortly after I was assigned to KMAG – Korea Military Assistance Group. Seems like the unit became a bit over strength in certain grades, I was promotable into one of them and MAAG in Vietnam needed a few more warm bodies so I did several TDY trips there in 1961-2. TDY was a way to get around troop level strengths and that apparently worked for the Army.

I initially started as an admin-operations type that was mostly taking people here and there, there usually being the airfield. As a Speedy 5, I then worked (driver-gopher) for a Major who was usually in civilian clothes, was always around the press and had a room at the Caravelle Hotel. Fairly new, it was a pretty nice pad. I shared a small room with another NCO who was TDY from Japan. He was an Intelligence type that spoke several languages. I believe their job was to watch the foreign and U.S. press types as many had offices at the hotel. What was nice was that I got cash to pay for my billeting and breakfast in an air-conditioned facility. Few around then. It was around $5-6 and included laundry. We junior ranks usually had enough left over for liquid refreshments.

    

MAAG-V 606 TRAN HUNG DAO SAIGON THEN AND NOW.
ONE STAYED AWAY TO AVOID REALLY BAD DETAILS.

Capable of two-finger typewriter operations, I typed several reports on people and conversations. It had some interest but a bit boring. The press was always asking questions of us like we knew what was going on. We reported their questions. I became Interested in going out and looking around where there was some activity in addition to an office, behind the steering wheel of a car and drinking atop the Hotel at Saigon. I was just up there today drinking a local craft ale and remembered that it was one of just a few 10 floor buildings around in 61. The view of the Catholic Cathedral was still there, now tucked between the many high-rise hotels and office buildings that is now Saigon District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.
    

Saigon today still has the same old French Colonial look around the downtown area. What has changed is the current high volume of traffic – mopeds, newer model cars, buses and trucks. People still hawk their food and wares on the sidewalks, and the Ao Dai are seen worn by employees at hotels and government businesses. It is hard to tell what city one is in around Asia these days. They have become quite western in appearance. Work has started on urban rail to alleviate the traffic a bit. To the traveler, one must plan drives well as traffic jams are frequent and uncomfortable. Avoid rush hours. I thought of a couple of books about Pham Xuan An. Perhaps one of the best placed agents working against us during the war. This was someone I probably saw at his undercover work several times. The Army gave our press much information about what was going on which he had open access to. Should be read by all MI types.

I eventually got a job escorting (carrying luggage) the newly assigned MAAG officers and senior NCO’s who were relegated to the field, away from the easy life of Saigon. Later, the time was split between MAAG-V and MACV that started up 1962. Sometimes people did not know for sure what unit they were in and we had SF teams TDY in and out, and there was always someone choking up on the bat as to who got an airplane ride to the boondocks rather than a jeep or worn-out sedan. New maps were coming out and getting them out to where they were needed allowed a couple of our gopher corps to see some of the country.

While traveling around the country, an occasional view of a former SF Camp or MAAG/MACV Advisory Team would pop up. Most have been levelled to the ground in rural areas but in towns, they are in use by local police or agencies. The sheer number of Vietnamese government buildings, compounds and activities is quite amazing. Even very small towns have their share. In the areas I served, the U.S. areas were built over but former provincial headquarters I see are now small museums about the war. Outside of one or two in the bigger cities, they are generally worthless historically. One does get an impression of our more effective programs by the sheer amount of coverage they receive on display.

The War Remnants Museum in Saigon is the largest around. It shows U.S. markings painted over ARVN and VNAF equipment. It depicts former U.S. Navy anti-war demonstrator and Senator John Kerry in a heroic manner and former U.S. Navy Seal Bob Kerrey, an effective anti-VC Cadre operator as a war criminal.

Few Vietnamese remember the war. What they have comes from their parents and the government. Vietnam has a young population that knows they do not have much power to change things. In addition to the Re-Education Camps, the government restricted the children of their former adversaries to have any jobs connected with the government. However, the grandchildren might be able to work for government industries but unless they are a member of organizations such as the Young Communists, they will never be in positions such as the police. So, children of GVN personnel work for private and overseas companies or are self-employed or work at labor. It is sad to see resources wasted like this over the years.

The English language newspapers daily have the same type of articles. There are always visits to Southeast Asian countries to improve commercial relations and there is some government official visiting somewhere promising aid or investments in economically troubled areas. The third area is that of government corruption. It is a way of life over here. If one rises to some position of authority, it is expected that part of costs provided to the government will go to these trusted officials. Officials such as customs and immigration have become much more professional, no open palms noted this trip. They have learned from other countries.

The Koreans have returned. They were our allies during the war and later brought good quality transport and commerce with them. Now they are a major tourist group. From these and language training, they are displacing the Russians rapidly. A Korean on vacation can make the four-and-a-half-hour flight from Korea, stay at a resort for five days, play two rounds of golf cheaper than a round might cost them in Seoul.

The watchful eyes of the party are still omnipresent. I recall my first trip here early 90’s when paranoia abounded as they feared that USSF was training the old and wounded Montagnards in North Carolina to return and cause them problems. In 2012, it was economic fears that non-governmental organizations (NGO) would somehow drain their collection boxes. This time it was over watch on who could get medical treatment from the NGO. In addition, the college interpreters were interrogated as to their experiences.

Whether in China, Russia, East Germany, or Vietnam, officials seem to continually invent threats, probably to justify their security positions. By the way, they are quite easy to spot. When there is a problem around, an NGO is a good scapegoat. One of the medical treatment sites might have been changed for one apparent reason but might be tied in with a visit during the period of a high-ranking party official in the area.

If any reader is a Vietnam Veteran, they should consider re-visiting Vietnam. It provides some closure on what might have been a traumatic time, as well as some decent traveling and tours at a reasonable cost. Air travel is relatively cheap in country and there are recurring U.S. to Vietnam flights at special rates.

I am not a travel expert but might be able to offer a few more suggestions. Like every Vietnam Veteran I know or have worked with, the war was different for everyone. Even the same unit or location experienced different battles a few months apart.

Pham Xuan An –
“Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent” by Larry Berman, 2007. This book is sold in many Vietnamese book stores in English.

”The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War and Pham Xuan An’s Dangerous Game” by Thomas A. Bass, 2009.

As I sat at a rooftop table at Saigon Saigon a couple of nights ago, I tried to bring up memories of those later well-known reporters and photographers who stayed at the Caravelle in the 1960’s. I tried to picture the spy with a cigarillo in his mouth, but they were popular smokes at the time. I recalled a few names but mostly remembered those reporters who visited we military guys in the field. Some were intelligent and reported facts but many did not report all of what actually happened. A couple would not listen to our warnings and have never been seen since. In retrospect, it seems that some of those actions I knew about and participated in never made it into the archives. Perhaps what was reported sold newspapers or TV time, but I feel deep down that what was reported, or the way it was reported was more influential on the outcome than the actual battles, deaths, and goals.

Lou

Acronym Key:
CONUS – Continental United States
TDY trips – Temporary Duty Yonder
NCO – non-commissioned officer
MAAG – Military Assistance Advisory Group
MAAG-V – Military Assistance Advisory Group Vietnam
MACV – Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
ARVN – Army of the Republic of Vietnam
VNAF – Vietnamese Air Force
GVN – Government of Vietnam

Therapeutic Email

By Lou Rothenstein

Gen Milley’s statement brought back a lot of memories from early days in Vietnam. I also had a few of them pop up recently on a trip to Vietnam and a few places where I served. It also bugged me as I see many lessons learned not being read by enough people in high places.

I recall a statement from my last CO/Senior Advisor in Vietnam. “They should have shot the first man to bring an air conditioner into country.”

It had to do with an order coming down from on high that a certain category of personnel must have air-conditioned quarters. We had to use most of our electrical power for communications equipment that was essential to our mission. We had less than 100 men on an Advisory Team that covered perhaps the largest single a/o in territory in country. There were two SF B-Camps, about 14 A Camps, three Province Advisory Teams, and about 37 district and MATs. We had 7/1 Air Cav, the ARVN 41st Ranger Bn and an ARVN towed 155mm Arty Bn. Everyone was spread thin. Everyone became expert at calling for air support, primarily at night. Being at a primarily static camp, we made improvements in our living conditions. We traded captured enemy equipment for a well and water tank with erdolator (p) that gave us clear and drinkable water. We scrounged cement for sidewalks and an AK-47 got us a small cement mixer. We had a rather small PX with essentials only. Smokes, Jim Beam and a fewer, less essential items like razor blades and soda pop. Beer was traded with other elements or off the docks in Saigon on a monthly run or bribing a Caribou crew to deliver it. A Mamasan seamstress kept us supplied with VC flag replicas for further trading. We had it pretty good. Lack of clean ice might have been our biggest problem. Cold beer was sometimes had at the expense of some CO2 Fire Extinguishers……We worked out a trade with the Navy for refills….We survived discomfort through the gray military market as it was faster and sometimes more efficient than normal supply. We had our own supply system that skipped a couple of levels or worked locally and informally.

The problem was that some of us were gone more than half of each week somewhere in the AO. Down the street, a SF B Camp that worked on rebuilding and improving its compound after TET-68 major attacks – concrete mortar pits, actual buildings, etc., got movement orders to an area closer to the border. A great prize for a province advisory team. The B-Team lived in tents and had to improve a new camp just for survival. Eventually enough supplies arrived to build fairly good defenses and better living conditions. Few people realize that there were A Camps and Advisors in the Plain of Reeds that were pretty hard to get to when water levels were up. Some even had to travel within the camps in boats.

Probably the folks that did more with less were the MAT’s. Four or five on a Mobile Advisory Team were not very mobile as they advised the Popular Forces in their home villages and hamlets. Support was good between our SF Camps, MACV Teams and the U.S. Navy PBR and Swift Boat elements operating in our a/o. The USAF supported our SF Camps with a dedicated squadron of Caribous. Not a bad setup but it took quite a few people just to keep things running. I could not imagine what it would have been like to have to support things like Burger King that far from the flagpole….

On a previous advisory tour, we MI guys were assigned to an MI unit, attached to MACV. Our support was crappy from our unit. I was amazed at the lower ranks in the field we had to train while my headquarters area was filled with senior NCO’s at their club in Gia Dinh. All in fresh jungle boots and fatigues, while some of us in the field were wearing worn-out OG-107 or ARVN uniforms. It took a side trip to MACV J2 to fix some of the disparities. Going down through channels, things disappeared. The fix was to turn over the mission to MACV. It worked for us later in the war…

I had a couple of uncles and a brother-in-law who worked the WWII Battlefields. They all talked of the R&R camps where they got new clothes, hot showers, hot food, caught up on mail. How important it was to do it as a unit. Looking back on our R&R system in Vietnam, I could see the good it did for morale, but not being with one’s team left something out of the mix. After a big operation, our senior advisor sent us on in-country R&R as a team of at least four-five personnel to take care of one another. When I was in the 6th Convalescent Center, there were a couple of soldiers there that had 11 months in country with a Cav unit without any R&R. I had a good friend I served with in Berlin. He was assigned to MACV-SOG and had little support from his base area. They were in the field on recon a lot on classified missions, separate from other elements. To get support, they rounded up the nastiest, oldest clothing and equipment they could find and went to SF Hq. Once the CSM saw them, things happened. They were sent to supply for issuance of all new equipment, haircuts of course. and some rest. I try to contrast this with those who were close to the flagpole who were never short of jungle boots and fatigues they really didn’t need.

When I read of the Burger Kings and other “must have” niceties in base camps currently, I wonder if this is really a morale booster or buster. For those troops that go on missions away from the flagpole, it must be harder than it was for us to leave camps and compounds that didn’t have a lot to begin with. I wonder what percentage of troop strength is involved in this type of operation. Talking with a few soldiers with multiple deployments in our recent conflicts, it was nice to have things at a well-equipped base but they lamented having to pull guard and security duties while there. I do not get a good, clear picture around this. Where is the Rest part of R&R?

I recall our providing Navy PBR crews our cots for some daytime sleep after they were patrolling our Rivers all night long and too far away from their base LSTs. I also recall the making needed supply runs for us to teams and camps when helicopters were in short supply. The systems weren’t perfect but they worked. Things like mantles for gas stoves and refrigerators and certain radio batteries were like gold. Some of those on 30 day reup leaves would be detailed to bring some in their duffle bags on the return flight. Better than priority 999 they gave to Unattended Ground Sensors. Another project we picked up with Navy help.

I haven’t talked much about Grunts with U.S. Infantry units. In addition to working with ARVN, I worked a bit with the Mobile Riverine Force. A Brigade of the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division and a U.S. Navy Flotilla, CTF 117 did some major riverine operations along the major waterways of the Delta. They were pretty well supplied as they had a big base camp at Dong Tam and decent but cramped quarters afloat. There were a lot of immersion foot problems. Others who were friends or some clients in counseling over the years would state that they were in good units but their uniforms and gear were often in threads, not replaced on schedule as they spent too much time in the field, or the supplies simply weren’t there when they returned. I think there is something wrong with this picture of combat elements not getting what they needed on a priority over those living at the flagpole. It seems the picture I have of today’s Army is not too different from what I experienced. Too much tail.

Why not go back to something that worked in two World Wars and Korea? Of course the individual replacement system helped reduce unit integrity. One might recall the shiploads of troops returning from WWII when troops had some winddown time together before discharge. From Vietnam, many boarded the aircraft and were discharged the next day at Oakland trading jungle fatigues for civvies, then home. With shorter tours, it is possible. Perhaps the Navy Seabees had the best rotation/R&R system going in Vietnam. From a team training in CONUS, 8 months in country, four months at home base in the U.S., 8 months in country. Replacement teams brought with them the essentials they needed for much individual support, picking up tools from the departing team. Talking over the years with a few old hands at SF ops in Vietnam, a few would argue that the older TDY rotations of 6-8 months worked pretty well for them. One could also argue that even one year was not enough to do the mission as well as one would want it to be. Our combat Arms officers would rotate out of a combat role after six months. That worked well for us in Advisory units that received them as it reduced orientation and the learning curve. Too bad some senior NCO’s were also not a part of that rotation. We did receive a few after stints in the hospital and they worked out well.

I ate a lot of local food in Vietnam. On operations with an ARVN combat unit, I supplied Tabasco Sauce, I ate from the unit Wok at lunch break supplemented by that French contribution to their colonies, bread and of course local fruit. I never got sick until I returned to a U.S. camp and ate our chow. Things like ice cream took about 4.5 minutes to cleanse my digestive system.

Base camps are great things but I have the picture that their primary purpose is more to hold up the flagpole than with supporting combat troops. I am not sure if the Army/services have looked at what R&R should be, what the optimum time in a combat zone should be, or who should get R&R? I think base camp duty should be the longest, ground combat the shortest. Take a look at traumatic exposure, wound rates, PTS, and it comes pretty clear. All combat duty is not the same and exposure times should be more a determinate as to tour length. Not determined by costs of involving more units in rotation that could be offset by providing fewer creature comforts. It would reduce future Soldier problems greatly.

And now another area that bugs me about my Army.

I last talked to an Army Ranger senior NCO about two years ago. He had eight deployments and was on leave for his ninth. He loved the Rangers but it was hurting his family life. He questioned his deployments overseas to a non-combat area that could have been handled by a regular unit. It kept him from finishing college and possibly a promotion. I also talked with a MSG instructor at an Army school about the same time. He had one deployment, finished a college degree program and was on the promotion list. Both were infantry. I am not sure this is smart or fair for my Army in the long run.

I think that a conversation I had over several days in a PTS healing retreat is one that bothers me the most. It was with an Infantry PSG. He lost two platoon leaders and several Soldiers in Iraq. His unit stayed a bit longer than expected in country. When the unit came back to the states, he was stripped out along with several other senior NCOs and officers and sent to Ft Polk to train reserve component units. While he was gone, one of his Soldiers committed suicide. He felt deep guilt for not being with him in those critical readjustment months after combat deployment.

I recall the British Army some years back was having a time of it in Northern Ireland as a peacekeeping force. Infantry units were pretty much ragged after continual rotations at a time when the armed forces were being reduced. They decided to retrain other units as light infantry/security to even things up a bit. The U.S. Army would never attempt this I know but there are a lot of tail troops sitting in positions that could be replaced by civilians – or better – combat wounded veterans who could
still teach with first-hand knowledge from the combat zone from the platform at least. I think that the tail troops should also get two weeks of summer camp combat training to stay better prepared for that possible actual combat exposure as either an individual in a SMOS or as a unit. There are other armed forces that do this. I remember our Division Band in the 25th ID. They were well-versed in MP duties, pulled security at Division/Brigade CP’s. They trained for it with the MPs. Another unit I was in, the band assisted the medics as litter bearers and assisted in erecting those g*&&#^% GP Medium tents. Most able-bodied Soldiers can do more than one job if given the chance or a need is there. I recall an assignment to a small supply sub-depot where nearly all 60 or so Soldiers had more than one job. Originally I was a security type then by promotion and appointment, unit clerk. Morning Report, Leave/passes, orders, duty rosters for the 1SG. I spent more time driving a bus, deuce and a half or a 5-ton wrecker. Others in the supply operation were firemen and so on. Perhaps the Army might try to reduce tail strength by reducing slots and forcing commands to train troops in additional and needed jobs. Is it worth a try?

General Milley’s comment on disobeying orders caught me by surprise. What came to mind was a few of my seniors over the years that followed the book to a T and made no decisions on their own. It was painful to see a good target never engaged move out of range. They faded out soon. I do recall some relatively junior officers and some senior NCOs who took the bull by the horns in the absence of orders and communications and made decisions that were based on their training, experience, and gut feelings and saved lives. I saw some of these rise through the ranks to some pretty high and responsible places. I often think of Colonels Chamberlain and Lewis Millett who in the absence of attack orders and short on ammo, fixed bayonets, ordered a charge and won the day over a fleeing enemy force. I think the General in talking about disobeying orders is really talking about leadership.

I don’t recall who told me or where I read it but for what its worth “The only bad decision is the one that is not made.”

This has been my monthly therapeutic tirade.

Lou

Vietnam Architecture

By Lou Rothenstein

A bit hard to believe that most of this city and country has been rebuilt – looks like completely in some areas. The only building I recognized was the old train station, the palaces and gates of the old, old Seoul, and areas on Yongsan Compound. Some might miss the Old Korea as it is very hard to find.

A bit hard to find the old-time scenery, even rice paddies. They are different, much farmland is covered with greenhouses. Re-forestation seems to have occurred. Didn’t have time or inclination to hike the hills much. High-rise in Munsan-Ni, quonset huts all gone in 2nd ID, multi-lane  expressways, all make this a bit of a different country.

ROKA 1st Inf Div has a pretty good DMZ show at one of our old OP’s, and the whole of things look like a good tourist attraction. I talked with one ROKA who spoke good English and told him of our old radar and LP’s along the DMZ and he said he read about them in ROKA literature. We talked about how cold it was in winter there, particularly the Chorwon area.

We could take a few pages out of their book on security. They have some special purpose police vehicles allowing destruction of flaming barriers, buses that are bullet-proof and modified to prevent attachment of things under or up the tail-pipes, etc. Tomorrow is Buddha’s Birthday, and they have heightened security days before. On a visit to the Blue House area, everyone/thing is made digital. Even airport arrival at Incheon International includes facial photo/scan with passport and a couple of fingerprints.

Talked with a Korean War Veteran on a tour. He was on a tour sponsored by the ROK Government for U.S. and U.N. War Vets. They are provided most of a vacation, tours, shows, a formal dinner – their way of showing thanks for our help. He extended his stay to see more of the country. He felt it was something he needed to do for a long time. If you know of any Korean War Veterans who haven’t re-visited, they might check into Korea Veteran return tours.

Today it is shopping and a visit to the Korea War Memorial/Museum. Wife surprised at the difference in Vietnam and Korea. More English in Vietnam with people who deal with tourists/signs, etc. Also the large numbers of Korean tourists in Vietnam.

4.5 hour flight gets them a resort stay, 2 rounds of golf at the price one a single golf round in Korea.

Could not find any OB beer. The newer brands are not bad. Converting currency is not a problem, everybody including taxis use VISA.

Remembering The TET Offensive…

Compiled from various accounts and reports by Rick Fulton, Tet veteran, who now lives in Pittsburg, Kansas.

For those who were there, the offensive is simply called Tet, yet even with such a short title, this was the most complex battle of the Vietnam War.

It encompassed all four corps tactical areas inside the Republic of Vietnam, yet also included engagements to the north of the DMZ, and to the lands beyond the western borders. The fights were air, land, sea, brown water, urban, rice paddies, hillsides and under the jungle’s triple canopy. Warriors included soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen; even a few folks in civilian dress. Besides the men, women and children who were generally called South Vietnamese, other battlefield participants included Thai, Australians, New Zealanders, Filipinos, Cambodians, Nationalist Chinese, Meo and other tribesmen, Laotians, Koreans, and of course about a half a million or so Americans.

There were others on the Allied side in Southeast Asia as well; people of Europe and elsewhere who helped so much with logistics, and with medical support. Some had small groups in-country. Together, all the Nations and lands that had joined together in the great struggle as part of a multi-national allied force waged the most intensive kind of war against those directly opposed– the South Vietnamese communists, called the Viet Cong, and their immediate allies, the North Vietnamese. The communists were backed up by volunteers from the Soviet Union, and by the North Koreans, the Cubans, and from the massive Chinese forces of Mao.

Most think of Tet as a struggle of just a few days in length; the very end of January 1968, and the first half of February, but it was actually defined by the attackers as a three-phased event. First there was the surprise attacks made during the traditional Vietnamese Tet Holiday. This included assaults of cities and hamlets, villages and towns, military encampments and airbases in all four of the tactical Corps areas.

In the far north of the Republic of Vietnam was I Corps, called “eye corps” by those who were there. In this area were such places as DaNang, Hue, Dong Ha, Khe Sanh, the valley of the Ashau, the hilltop redoubts and the special forces encampments guarding the far western border and the southern bank of the river marking in the most practical of terms the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Vietnam.

Next there was II Corps, home of Pleiku and Nha Trang, then the massive III Corps in which lay Saigon, its twin called Cholon, Tay Ninh City and other place names which Tet inscribed in the hearts and souls of all who took fire.

The IV Corps was in the far south, a land remote from the rest, the great Rat Sung Delta, through which flowed into the sea the many channels of one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong. So in the north were mountainous regions, then jungles, then farming zones, rubber trees, three crop a year rice fields, then cities, then delta and swamp.

In all of this, in winter, spring, summer and early fall of 1968 was fought the three phase campaign of the communists called the Tet Offensive, a fight which had its beginnings in the multi battalion engagements along the borders in 1967, struggles to draw allied military power away from the intended Tet targets. In Phase One, the allies, together, lost more than nine thousand killed in action. Another 35,000 were wounded, and there were more than 1,500 who were listed as missing.

There were 14,000 or more civilians in the south who were killed by the communists in the attack, or caught in the fighting, and another 24,000 were wounded.

In Phase One alone, it is estimated that 17,000 communists were killed and another 20,000 were wounded. Exact figures are uncertain but what is known for certain is that after phase one ended, the Viet Cong force greatly was diminished and faded from most battlefields. In phase two and three, the enemy faced were primarily North Vietnamese. The communists sustained more than a hundred thousand casualties in all three phases of the campaign. More than 45,000 were killed and more than 60,000 were wounded.

On the allied side, total figures for all three phases just of Tet are unavailable, yet many lost their lives, were wounded or were missing during the 1967 fights on the fringe and then the nine months total of Tet. For America alone in the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 lost their lives, and most of those losses were in the 1967-1968-and half of 1969 period. In terms of economic loss, there was great damage done to the infrastructure of the south, and to the military resources defending the Republic. Some 123 aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, were destroyed and more than 400 other aircraft were damaged. Installations, posts and bases had serious impacts, either from direct combat or from indirect shelling and rocket fire. Many cultural sites in the south, especially in Hue, were destroyed or heavily damaged.

Tet was brutal. It was fighting of the same or greater intensity of that experienced in World War Two and in the 1950-1953 Korean War. Keep in mind that veterans of the Tet period were, to some degree or another, also veterans of the overall Cold War, and many were also veterans of events in Libya, and in what was happening in northeast Asia with Korean War II, all going on at the same time as Tet.

It is impossible to compare experiences. What Marines had to handle at Khe Sanh was very different than the month-long urban fighting of Hue and of what allied force members faced in more than 100 towns and cities. Up and down the Republic of Vietnam, the allied forces were shocked and surprised, at least initially, with the intensity of the struggle. Of 44 provincial capitals (think “state capital” in the USA), there was serious combat in 36 of them, as well as five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns (think “county seats”), and in Saigon (think “Washington DC”).

This is what the Viet Cong and what more than 80,000 north Vietnamese troops brought into the lives of South Vietnam’s citizens—people in a war but not ready for the intensity of battle which was Tet. Indeed, Tet was supposed to be a holiday, the Vietnamese New Year when the first attacks took place. Instead of celebration and holiday feasting, there was an enemy surprise offensive that was the largest military operation conducted by either side up to that time in the war. Defeating such an enormous military undertaking was what Tet was truly all about – and make no mistake: That is precisely what the allied forces did, in each of the three phases of the operation.

When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, more than half of the enemy forces were destroyed, down on the ground, dead. Tet was not the victory for the communists claimed by the foolish of Kent State students and elsewhere, away from Southeast Asia. Those who were there and went through Tet just absolutely could not believe how any citizen of the United States could believe otherwise, but they did. We won the battles but Charley won the war, because they won the struggle of propaganda. Unbelievably, we have not yet seemed to grasp that information is a weapon, even though it was the ultimate weapon we used in the Cold War.

Getting back to Tet, South Vietnamese and U.S. Military intelligence estimated that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Forces actually inside the Republic of Vietnam before the Tet Offensive erupted included 323,000 men, a figure which included 130,000 North Vietnamese regulars, 160,000 Viet Cong South Vietnamese communists, and 33,000 troops assigned to service and support duties.

Beginning in the summer of 1967, 81,000 tons of supplies and 200,000 troops had moved south down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam. Many of these men were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and B-40 RPGs (rocket propelled grenade launchers). Many of these enemy soldiers were encountered by US and allied forces in the battles which took place along the borders of the Republic of Vietnam.

That fighting in 1967 was intensive and fierce, and it did cause movement of allied forces away from the cities and the coasts into the interior. At the same time this fighting was underway, there was also diplomatic activity taking place between the two sides. The allies saw massive numbers of trucks moving south through Laos and Cambodia, more than 6,000 in December 1967 alone. Many of these were destroyed by air strikes.

There were clear signs that some sort of attack against the country was soon to happen, but there was confusion and a general lack of cooperation and coordination among the various intelligence services of the allies. They all knew the enemy was growing in strength, and they knew an attack of some sort would be the result of all that logistical activity, but the leadership, both political and military, did not understand just how soon the attack would come, and they did not see that it would be activity that would just swell up inside the various communities of the south. Until Tet, History taught that military actions came in waves against strong points. That was true with D-Day in World War Two and with the North Korean attack in the summer of 1950. But it was not to be true for the defenders of Freedom in South Vietnam.

By the beginning of January 1968, the United States had 331,098 US Army soldiers and 78,013 Marines in-country; members of nine divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, and two separate brigades. The South Koreans had two divisions in-country and there were significant other allied units. The South Vietnamese strength was 350,000 regulars, supported by 151,000 regional forces and 149,000 popular forces (regional and local militias). In addition to ground forces, the allies included strong and capable air, river, gun line and over the horizon sea forces. The in-country bases which were used to project aerial attacks and support missions were well guarded. The United States Air Force, for instance, had battalion strength Security Police Squadrons that were as well armed as other ground force units, and even had indirect fire and armored fighting vehicle capabilities. It is significant that during any of the three phases of Tet there was no successful penetration of the interior of any air base, and that all attacks against the perimeters were totally repulsed.

Beginning with attacks in I Corps and II Corps which started shortly after midnight on January 30, the main Tet series of attacks began at 0300 the morning of 31 January. This included attacks against such places as Saigon and Cholon, Hue, Gia Dinh, Quang Tri, Tam Ky, Phu Bai, Can Tho, An Khe, Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa, and many other places, stretching until a February 10th attack against Bac Lieu in IV Corps. In all 84,000 enemy troops made 155 attacks. Before and for a period of time during the initial Tet activity, the allied leadership mostly believed the enemy intent was to cut off northern I Corps from the rest of the Republic of Vietnam, and then to use the occupation of that area as a sort of bargaining chip in talks to end the war.

With the activity around Khe Sanh, and then the massive attack against Hue, this seemed to be a logical assumption by many of the allied generals; yet the efforts made against downtown Saigon seemed to almost immediately disprove the theory.

In Saigon the communists had six primary targets: the MACV and the ARVN Headquarters located on Tan Son Nhut Air Base, primarily defended by the United States Air Force Security Police; the Independence Palace; the US Embassy, the Republic of Vietnam Navy Headquarters, and the National Radio Station. Aside from the attacks against the sprawling Tan Son Nhut Air Base complex, carried out by enemy main force battalions and regiments, the other attacks were more in the nature of special operations activities. None succeeded, due to the joint and combined defenses mounted by military police and main force units.

With Tet, the enemy suffered the loss of more than 45,000 personnel. Many were killed in various kinds of ground battles, yet sea and air forces brought intensive capabilities to bear. Throughout all of 1968, it is estimated that the enemy losses were above 180,000 and that the Viet Cong ceased to be effective. 1968 was also the deadliest year for the forces of the Republic of Vietnam. They lost almost 28,000 military personnel. Another 14,000 civilians were killed, 24,000 were wounded, 630,000 new refugees joined with nearly 800,000 others displaced by the war, and many houses and much of the infrastructure of the Nation was destroyed.

Tet, in all, was a gruesome and bitter time for all involved. It is hard to see anything positive in such an event, yet this is a clear fact. The steam roller the communists had hoped to use to crush and to swamp the south with, and to then keep the traction going into other nations of the region, perhaps as far as to India and to Indonesia and even to Australia, was halted in place and then for a time was a capability mostly pushed out of the Republic. Americans suffered in the fighting but significantly did not lose the battles, and the units withdrawn after Tet went home to posts and bases with their military honors somewhat frayed yet mostly intact. The communists did not win military victories in South Vietnam when the allied forces stood with arms linked.

Seven years after Tet, though, in 1975, two years after the Americans left, the Republic of Vietnam fell and freedom was destroyed for the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people. This happened in great measure because of a failure of character of many of the American people who did not correctly understand the importance of America’s involvement in the unfolding events of Southeast Asia, resulting in a failure of consequences which remain to be reconciled.

Fifty years after Tet, the truth resounds that the United States of America is a Pacific Nation, and has national interests in the Pacific region as important as anywhere else. What happens in the Pacific community of Nations are events touching our own shores as well, and they are and forever will be as s important to the defense of Freedom for us, as they are for our neighbors.

As demonstrated by the courage and the sacrifices made against the aggression of the Tet Offensive, we do not stand alone.

FIFTIETH YEAR PROCLAMATION COMMEMORATING THE DEFENSE OF FREEDOM DURING THE VIETNAM WAR’S TET OFFENSIVE

WHEREAS, in 1967, the enemies of Freedom began a campaign of conventional battle to draw allied military forces away from population centers in coastal regions to the more remote jungle and mountainous areas along the borders of the Republic of Vietnam; and

WHEREAS, when 1968 began, in spite of large scale battle underway in the Khe Sanh area, there were indications by enemy leadership of a willingness for negotiations to begin towards a peaceful resolve of the escalating Vietnam War, as marked by a time of ceasefire during the upcoming traditional Tet celebrations; and

WHEREAS, enemy forces, secretly moved to overwatch positions, launched 155 large surprise attacks against the government and the people of the Republic of Vietnam, with massive barrages striking important government locations, as well as cities and hamlets, posts and bases, ranging from the DMZ in the north to the mighty MeKong River delta of the south; and

WHEREAS, enemy treachery brought unexpected death and destruction south, causing grave harm to thousands upon thousands of people caught in the triggered cauldron of war, from countryside to national capital, in a three-phased campaign of nine months duration; and

WHEREAS, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen, other members of the defense team, Police and Civil Authority of the Republic of Vietnam, United States of America, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and other Allies, all joined together in a great joint and combined effort to meet the attacks, thwart them, and repulse the enemy intention to seize control of the Nation, and defeat the cause of Freedom in southeast Asia;

AND WHEREAS, The heart and spirit, the courage and resolve of proud and brave men and women stood fast against tyranny, did what was legal and right, and with the very best of battlefield leadership, broke the attack in half, sent its survivors reeling, secured another seven years of life for the Republic of Vietnam, and showed the world what was possible when free people stand together in allied effort to defeat aggression.

MAKE NO MISTAKE. The Tet Offensive was a thorough military defeat of the enemy powers who launched it.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED AND KNOWN, in this 50th year of Commemoration of countrymen and allies who stood together to defeat tyranny in a treacherous time, We extend congratulations and words of praise to All who served In-Country in 1968, the most intensive year of the Vietnam War. We thank you for your many sacrifices of blood, toil and loss; and for your valor and your service. We Welcome You Home.

 

DATE_________________

SIGNED________________________

 

Two Tet Vets

All of us need to remember Tet, what it meant, and what lessons for today and for tomorrow that we can draw from the event. Our times of today are as uncertain as they were in the 1960s. It is important for our nation to seek and sustain unity. The foes against us see the world very differently than we do, and they are capable of doing great harm to the Freedom we have because of the US Constitution. They learn from the past. So, too, must we. As we look fifty years back at Vietnam, we must not fall into the trap of making predictions about the future; yet we must always measure capabilities. That was not done as well as it should have been done in the mid 1960s, on until the end of the War. That is a mistake our Nation must not repeat, and that is why it is important to properly and honestly remember the lengthy battle called Tet. Speaking as a veteran of those days, thank you for presenting the information to your readers.

Parker Interview – Part 1

2LT James E. Parker Jr. Aka “Mule” is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman 


John Thomas Wiseman: How do you define National Security?

James E. Parker: Well certainly any dictionary will have an answer for that, but my definition would be something more personal…. it would be not only efforts to keep us safe, but situational awareness of the things out there in the world (and here at home) that might put our life style in some danger, and then doing something to take away that danger. And I’m speaking of US National Security ’cause I don’t know what they think about security in Brazil, or in Uganda. You know ol’ George, Senior used to talk about how our country is a thousand shards of light, and I’m thinking he meant our geography, our history, our public utilities, our sense of justice, UNC bar-b-q, Hollywood, the Super Bowl, the freedom to go anywhere or say anything, that your home is your castle, your weapons a symbol of your freedoms, the interstate highway system, the Mississippi, and the Rockies, good hospitals and a 4th of July hot dog. That’s America.

And those things ain’t free. You gotta protect them. ‘Cause if you’re born in Timbuktu to a family that ain’t never had anything, they might not understand how we take it all we got for granted. How being American is also about being a little cocky, that we got it good. We are lucky in that we got all that Pacific and Atlantic water out there protecting our flanks. And a northern neighbor that’s part and parcel of the American culture. That shares our interest in protecting what we got…

So there.

National Security starts with an understanding of what we mean by national – and to my way of thinking that’s Bush Sr.’s thousands and thousands rays of light.

And Security is the means we have to use to protect our nation from those who wish us harm.

JTW: Which organization did you enjoy the most in your career?

JEP: Probably that would be the current Mule enterprises. I am at my core a story- teller. All my travels and adventures and utterances and thoughts and actions seem on some level to be just fodder for stories. And that’s the level I’m at now. Looking back, remembering, and often comparing this time with that to see how my perspective has changed… and my vantage on… life its ownself. Like today at the movies, it’s all about animation of dragons and talking animals and the incredibly stories of daring do… bases of which are not taken from anything I’ve known.

And the ads on TV show people of all persuasions enjoying this and that, as long as they buy this or do that. Venal appeal… buy this and life as you know it will be better.  And the actors presenting this message are not like anyone I can identify with.

And the shows are just a waste of time. The news reports are so programmed and narrow in focus as to be nothing that seems relevant to my life. Headlines are always the presidential elections; as if that’s the most important “news” of the day… well I don’t think so. Not in the world I live in… not in what I know about life.

Values are transient, often created by same-age airheads, not learned or taught by adults who fought life’s wars. Celebrity trumps peace of mind. Money often man’s raison d’etre.  And so many people out there. On the roads, in Africa, at the grocery store. There is no solitude anywhere close… except here at my desk, alone with my thoughts.

Aw, and to think back in the way of a story teller… there was purpose, and some real danger, and exciting places to see and smell and touch before the Discovery Channel, with the testosterone surging through my body 24/7. Demanding this course of action or that.

I think this is the best time of my life. My best “organization.”

JTW: What was your favorite assignment in your long career?

JEP: Well let’s see here… favorite?

If you were to ask my wife what was her favorite assignment, I think she’d say, all of them. But hell, she’s easy to please. Look who she married. She wakes up in the morning with a good attitude. Positive. She sees that glass half full. There was a story I used to tell about us meeting this woman in a Wal-Mart years ago…. in the 90s when we were still living in NC. She was big, wore a Wal-Mart mu-mu dress, round flat face. I have honestly forgot what it was that caused our meeting… but as we were walking away and I was looking for the right words about this woman was really in her element, and Brenda said, “Didn’t she have a nice smile.”

Brenda had a stroke in 2010, paralyzed the left side of her body. She’s done remarkably well since. Gets around mostly with a cane, and although she hasn’t regained the movement of her left arm and hand, she types her email.

And she has never complained. Not once that I can remember.

Now I’m goin’ to answer your question, but let me finish this thought. We used to live in a big ol’ sprawling house here in the SW of Las Vegas, but after Brenda’s stroke it was just too much to keep up – plus we were under water what with the real estate crash here in Vegas town, so we moved to the condominium we live in now… and in making the move, Brenda almost helpless, this Mexican woman pitched upon our doorstep saying she heard we might need some help.

Best I can figure it was God who talked her… because she’s still with us, three years later. Illegal as all hell, ain’t got paper one, but she’s an angel and has given Brenda back her pre-stroke freedom. They go shopping together, just to go shopping. Go to the grocery store, cook meals. Alma is here a lot… and she always talking, always asking Brenda’s advice, and always laughing. I don’t mean to say everything’s perfect, but damn it’s nice.

So what was the question?

Favorite assignment.

Got another story that you may have read in my Rants and Yarns… about my great Aunt Wilma, taught in NC classrooms for more than 70 years. Let me say that again, she taught in schools for more than 70 years. In her 90s she was driving around picking up relatives of migrant workers in Johnston County, NC, taking them to the local CC, teaching them English as a second language and then taking them back to their homes. I remember speaking with her once and said something like, “Boy you been teaching forever. Bet you’ve had some pretty smart students, huh?” And she said she had, “And I’ll bet you’ve really had some idiots too, huh?” And she, “No, every single one of my students was special. Every single one was smart.”

So I reckon to be true to heritage and my wife, on the favorite assignment thing, I have to say I have not had a favorite assignment, I’ve liked them all.

Some stand out, or come first to my memory.  But favorites, nope. Here are some that I remember.

My number 1 assignment was growing up rowdy in the mid-south, with a father that let me roam, telling me to “go out there and make something of yourself.” I got a lot from my youth. The “getting” part was not always appreciated by fathers of some of the girls I dated. If we carried a laugh-meter like health nuts carry around a step-meter on their belt… I laughed more than most of my peers growing up, did more stuff and certainly said more, “Holy s**t, what am I goin’ to do now?”

But here again, there’s a side story… that sort of explains my DNA…. it’s one of my early Rants and Yarns titled something like Travelling man… an interview my cousin Alan did back a couple of years ago.

Number 2 as well remembered events go, would be my year spent as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I’ve been blessed in this life… and one of my earliest conspicuous blessings was Staff Sergeant Cecil Bratcher who was my 1st Squad leader… until I made him my platoon sergeant. And we developed a great division of labor in running the platoon… I was just out of OCS and without his knowing hand, Jesus, what would have happened? You know so often in Vietnam, a young 2nd LT, especially a replacement, was merely the platoon mascot. The network of sergeants – from platoon sergeant down to fire team leaders really ran the show. There was zero room for error for replacement Lts. They mess up once in the field, some men get hurt, and the sergeants would take over. Or the sergeants would take over from the start, telling the new looey to just keep the Captain informed of what was goin’ on…. and they’d do the war fighting.

But there was never the case with Bratcher. We did it together. And he even came to my defense – supported me – when I picked a jive talking black I think from Detroit – a guy named Spencer – to be my radio operators. This was in 1965. Remember, for many of the good ol’ white boys in my platoon, this was their first chance up close and personal with American Blacks. It was when they were called Negroes, which the white grunts in my platoon would just spit out, rather than articulate. But here’s the thing, the majority of my Sergeants were black. So there was tension there, not that it was disruptive, but it was there… plus there was the sense that the black sergeants in my platoon were disenfranchised. But when Spencer started carrying my radio, things changed. Most notably was that the black NCO felt more involved, because the job of the RTO in the field is that he speaks for the unit commander, or figures what the commander wants and passes that on to Company or Battalion who were always on the horn when the shit hit the fan. And in free time Spencer would hang out with black buddies, and we were friends, Spencer and I, and that word got passed around in the platoon, and we were a better fighting unit as a results.

Bratcher and Spencer made a difference. Plus despite the great emotional horror that goes with war fighting, I enjoyed combat. The risk taking, the camaraderie, the job leading men on a battlefield.

Number 3 would be my first CIA assignment, upcountry Laos. To work with Hmong hills tribesmen fighting invading North Vietnamese. Just great on several different levels. One was the opportunity to work with American Ravens and Air America pilots and the collection of case officers the CIA hired to do this job… one of the biggest jobs in the history of the CIA. Who staffed it was no small matter. Now some of the CIA people up country looked as rough as cobs, but god almighty they were good, with great depth of character. Check out Kayak and Hog and Shep. Dick Johnson. Moose. All mentioned in my Rants and Yarns.  Well for sure check out Shep and Hog.

And we won our fight. Beat the hell out of tens of thousands of attacking North Vietnamese… commanded by some of the NVA’s best field Generals.

And the wonderful balance between war fighting with these great men, and then coming down to Vientiane every two or three weeks to that warm family of Brenda and the kids. Goin’ from Here to Eternity to a chic flick.

And also, or maybe first, was my contact and day-to-day emergence into the Hmong culture. The Hmong warlord we worked with, Vang Pao’s, first CIA case officer was a guy named Vint Lawrence. He told me once that it took him a year living in Long Tieng, working every day with VP and the Hmong, for him to get to the point where he could ask a good question.

They were humans, for sure, but they had had no contact with the western culture, these Hmong we worked with, and just went about life differently. There is so much we assume when we meet new people, but when those people are unlike any people that have ever dealt with Westerners, you gotta expect some newness, you know what I mean? Newness that it would take a year to really understand, and really come to grips with.

My first Hmong unit was GM 22, at the time out camped near Ban Na, north of Long Tieng… completely surrounded by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. And I would go out to their positions every day, by first convincing one of them mean sumbitch who flew Air America that it was safe, or safe enough, and then in arriving out with my people, having overflown enemy AA on the way, to do that terrible work most morning of sending wounded and dead collected from the night before, back to Long Tieng on the helicopter. Now here your mind’ll mess with you, ’cause it seemed this happened a lot, but probably not so much, it just seems that way because it was so poignant. Morning of just goin out to the position so uneventful.

The Hmong would, if you applied enough pressure, dig bunkers… though mostly they liked to hide behind rocks and scamper when the enemy came in force. But since we occupied this space out near Ban Na, they would send one of the littlest kid in their unit down the front side of the mountain where they were, send him down with a box full of grenades… and if the bad guys did come up to checky-check in the night this little guy’s job was to throw those grenades down the hill at the sounds he heard below and then beat feet back up to the top of the mountain.  Well often one of those grenades would have a short fuse and go off in the little guy’s hand or it would hit something and bounce back, or the bad guys would pick it up and throw it back at the little guy. Or the little guy would be shot trying to get back to the top of the hill.

What I remember so many mornings was these young, small and dirty soldiers laying there on blankets used as stretchers for the wounded or dead in the catastrophic way young men or killed or wounded by grenades. Loading them up on the helicopter and send them back to Long Tieng.

And then standing at the site watching that helicopter flying high over the enemy, and away from me. First losing the sound, and then watching it got as small as a dot in the early morning haze and then disappearing behind some distant mountain… and I would realize how quiet it was… and how particularly I was alone… except for these rock age Hmong.

And then over the course of months and months, coming to know them.

How innocent, how un-greedy, how smart, how interested they were in the US, like travel to the Moon for Christ sake, how they did math, what was important to them. And in all that, going about getting out there to find out where the bad guys were and killing them. And then later directing their attacks on North Vietnamese as they moved in force back the PDJ.

The enormous depth to that experience. How it made me understand how the life I knew from my mid-south upbringing was different, not better or worse than the experiences of these good men, just different. How I had no right to be critical – maybe judgmental of their lives, their hopes and dreams.

How their religion was so similar to mine in that it provided for a larger omnipotence, different in the detail but so absolutely the same human longing for understanding of this life we lived in…. No not absolutely the same…. they were more fatalistic… like no matter what you do, you still goin’ die.

And then later the evacuation from Vietnam… I mean there was a whole lot of interesting stuff goin’ on with that. No movie I have ever seen had as much drama as that evacuation… and I had a leading role.

And later that tour in Africa and my friendship with John Sherman. Here again you’ll have to read my Rants and Yarns on that guy – surely the most interesting man I ever knew.

I was a chief of station and had two posting that are still very classified… but they don’t compete with the others as memorable. Chief of Station was full of personnel problems. If not with my case officers, it was with night people that my case officers hung around with, rather than their wives, who complained to me that it was all my fault.

And then now, like I was saying above. I enjoy my life now. Every single day. I read three papers, but don’t watch the evening news. I read a book or two a week. Got a great man cave in which I write almost without distraction… like this email. Alma brought in my lunch of noodles around noon, but other than that, no pressure to go mow the lawn, or whatever it is that other 73-year-old men do with their mid-day Fridays. And I like to write. Like to tell the stories.

This has been fun… writing about not having just one favorite time.

A-37 in Vietnam

by Captain Richard Fulton


I was doing some looking around the site, which will continue, but the very first article that caught my eye was the A-37. I had a flight on one of them, hitting bunkers in III Corps, aboard an aircraft based at Bien Hoa. It was a two ship sortie and I remember it well because it was the only jet ride I ever had. Better do some explaining.

I went to Vietnam from Korea in 1967 and was assigned to 7th Air Force Directorate of Information, first to the internal information branch and then after Tet to the Combat News Branch. Combat News was headed by Lt Col Billy Vaughn. MSgt (Master Sergeant) Bob Need had been the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) but was wounded by rocket fire in February 1968 and sent home. He was replaced by another great NCO, MSgt Harvey Inouye, who was a cousin of the US Senator (Hawaii). We had a couple photographers on loan from 600 Photo Squadron and there were five or six gents like me, meaning information specialists in the E-4 and E-5 range. Most of what we did was write feature stories about the air war, all of which had to be cleared by MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) and most of which went downtown to JUSPAO (Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office). We also did some work supporting Tan Son Nhut at large because there was not a base IO shop there, though all the other air bases had one and usually had an OIC (Officer In Charge), NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge), photographer and couple of writers, with their work being sent south to the DXI for edit, clearance and distribution. In fact, how I got into Combat News was that the 366th TFW at DaNang IO shop had lost all its people except the lieutenant colonel. Our colonel, 7AF Director of Information Al Lynn, sent me up TDY (Temporary Duty) to lend a hand because of all that was going on in I Corps (Hue, Khe Sanh, Leatherneck Square, Dong Ha) and of course the Ashau Valley. So I had an exciting couple of months, and got in the habit of photographing as much as writing.

I should tell you about Colonel Lynn. He was on his third tour. Previous jobs had included pilot/AC of a Canberra bomber. The colonel had been around and did not like a staff job with weenies flying desks. He knew the gents in combat news were scrounging rides after normal duty so he got all of us on non crew member flight pay, had us issued flight suits and vests with all the goodies, and told us not to get killed, then grinned the famous “Black Cat” call sign and sent us forth to conquer. Getting rides was always easy. During my TDY (temporary duty) to I Corps, I got my Yankee Air Pirate patch for a run in an O-2 PSYOP north of the DMZ. I did six or seven flights on AC-47s based at DaNang, did C-123 and C-130 runs, and rides aboard US Army, Marine, and 41st VNAF Wing helicopters, UH-1s, H-19s, and a C-7A flight hauling VNAF (South Vietnam Air Force?) gathered refugee camp supplies into Hue city strip, the first fixed wing to land after the Tet attack. In fact some folks were still shooting that day. We took a couple rounds from somewhere but just into the PSP (Personal support program) and not into people. Later I got sent to Pleiku for a similar TDY and did another handful of Spooky flights in II Corps. Back at Tan Son Nhut we all had the opportunity to fly more gunships, but out of Bien Hoa. Later on there was a flight of AC-119 Shadows based at TSN (Tan Son Nhut?) and flown by Indiana Air National Guardsmen who were always happy for strap hangers to help hump ammo cans and pass flares. We had to turn our quarterly hours in, to get the flight pay, but this was never a big deal. All the gunship stuff was at night, usually the early birds before midnight. Once I was flying with an AC-47 crew out of Bien Hoa and it was unusual because we were fragged out on the late bird after midnight. Spookies (propeller driven aircraft) had to be ground or FAC (forward air control) controlled. Shadows were given box grids to work. Usually it was a lot of firing with little feedback, though once in I Corps we had been ground controlled by some SEALs on a river bank and hit a sampan barge sort of thing and got some good secondaries. That was very visual and of course all things being even I did not get a picture because of humping ammo cans Pilot ACs did the actual button pushing from the cockpit, gunners just kept the mini guns loaded in the back or worked getting flares out on command.

Anyway this sortie was after midnight, flown from Bien Hoa and had a hot target to work. We came back empty on ammo. It had been a busy night. On these gunship runs folks wore parachute harnesses for front packs that were kept in a bin by the door. It was very hot back there and you walked around more like a Gorilla and not normal because of the harness. Anyway, landing at Bien Hoa as the sun came up, the Bien Hoa IO shop had found an open seat on an A-37 that was going back to hit the area we had been working. I took with me a twin lens deuce and a quarter with all of 12 shots per roll and I had one reload. They got me all strapped in the right hand seat as I recall. We taxied to the arming area, the ejection seat pin got pulled, and off we went, a pair of A-37s, one very excited USAF SSgt journalist, two very laid back pilots and then we joined up with an O-1 FAC (forward air controller). He said he had some bunkers spotted for us to hit and we were to fly the X on what he marked, one aircraft to drop napalm and the other to come in and hit who ever might be running with cluster bombs which were in tubes operated by a kind of ram air pushing them out once the caps were fired off (it sounded like automatic shotgun blasts).

I did okay the first run. We dropped napalm, too excited to worry about the air sickness bag that had somehow gotten lost. Then it was our turn to fly the X with the CBUs (Cluster Bomb Units). I was to try and help spot for any tracer or any movements. We went in, the caps went off, the CBUs came out because the pilot rapidly put us in a climb. My stomach was left at the bottom of the X. I knew what was going to happen but I couldn’t get the mask off in time. Air sickness bag? Forget it! I did continue trying to work the camera and, eventually did get some decent shots as we flew back to Bien Hoa, but on landing I had to put my own ejection seat pin in to save it, and that seemed to take hours, plus I was of course majorly embarrassed for having upchucked. That was a fairly normal kind of A-37 mission for the pilots but I will never forget it. Most of our flights were on planes with props. I always wanted to get an F-100F counter but it never happened. We flew a lot in those days, our little group, and we all cranked a lot of stories out as was our task to do, but being in the Air Force and then being able to fly on combat runs was a special experience.

Just remembering.

Rick


What did America learn from the Vietnam War? By Captain Richard Fulton

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Awards earned by Captain Richard Fulton

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Decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service

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Fulton Interview – Part 2

Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.

  1. What is one of the more memorable or impactful experiences during your National Security Career?

The answer would have to be found in the years I spent in the reserve components of the United States Army, especially the Infantry experiences. I was a student at Pittsburg State University, following two enlistments in the Air Force. A friend knew I missed military life, and encouraged me to join the local Kansas Army National Guard unit. It was Company A, 3d of the 137th Infantry, 69th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Kansas Army National Guard. Because of prior military service and a number of years spent in USAF Security Police, I joined the ranks as a sergeant (E-5) and was assigned as a fire team leader in the company’s third platoon.

The Vietnam War was still going on and few people wanted to serve, so the company was at about sixty percent strength. About half had joined the Guard for less than patriotic reasons, yet some of them were very good soldiers. The other fifty percent were mostly Vietnam veterans, and the Kansas National Guard took good care of us, allowing us to grow. We did a lot of training in the strip pit lands of southeast Kansas, training mostly oriented towards squad and platoon tactics, We drilled one weekend a month, plus two weeks in the summer at regular Army posts, I went from fire team leader to squad leader, attended NCO Academy in Iola, Kansas (the hometown of General Fredrick Funston, a famous soldier at the turn of the century), and had free access to an impressive library of military manuals and regulations. As a university student the Guard became, as much as anything, a hobby, though one which paid, and which also had a unique purpose.

As a result of the Guard experience, I decided to try and become a commissioned officer. The university ROTC offered a one-year compression program. Students did MS-III and MS-IV together, two separate classes, each semester, plus the regular coursework of other classes, and also had to attend a summer camp. I became an ROTC cadet second lieutenant, and it was a paid USAR service. I missed my friends in the local unit, but enjoyed my classmates, even though I was older than them. One of those folks went on to become a three star general. Another was a colonel and dentist. Yet another was a JAG lawyer, all this on down the road, of course. The war mostly ended for America. Infantry lieutenants were no longer needed.

The Army said I was to become an AG officer. I had a choice so I completed the coursework, but resigned the program, enrolled in graduate studies, and returned to the National Guard. The company commander assigned me as acting platoon sergeant, and then a month later, as acting platoon leader. In terms of rank, I was a staff sergeant, but I did enjoy the year of commanding third platoon. Until 1975 we trained to the standard of being called to active duty and deployed back across the Pacific. What happened in 1975 ended that, of course, but we continued to train to a harsh standard under the command of officers who were Vietnam veterans. They taught us well. In 1976, because of our manpower problem, the Kansas NG decided to change us from an Infantry battalion into a combat engineer battalion. Officers started arriving in the units. I was given the task of being the company training NCO. Being in a combat engineer company was neat because we were trained in a lot of different skill areas, including demolitions. That was especially fun. My PMOS remained 11B30, though I had been given and had passed the 11B40 testing. The duty MOS was now 12B.

By 1977, I had finished a master’s degree in History and had been hired as a civilian employee at Fort Leavenworth. My job as a GS-7 was to be the editor of the LAMP weekly post newspaper. It was too far to drive for weekend drills, so I asked for discharge from the Guard, to join a new USAR company that was forming in Kansas City. That was the 308th PSYOP. I became an HC team leader, then company training NCO, then acting field first, then acting first sergeant. I always forgot the word “acting” and just did the job at hand. In 1979, following a Department of Defense Information School course, the Army offered me a GS-9 position at Fort Hood. I became the managing editor of the metro-sized four section weekly newspaper, the Fort Hood SENTINEL. As a civilian employee I supervised military journalists from three different headquarters companies within a separate brigade and two divisions. We all worked at the post Public Affairs building. The command information officer was a captain, Charley Schill, and the NCOIC was also our cartoonist, Sergeant First Class S. J. Stout, a really great soldier (and former Marine). The captain knew of my reserve activity, so he told me to handle daily operations with the mindset of a soldier, rather than of a GS-9 civilian employee. I did, and we had a great newspaper in those years, with most excellent soldiers doing most of the heavy lifting. It was a very unique organization, and the people were just plain fun to be with.

On the weekends I still wanted to soldier some, myself, so I initially joined the 100th PAD at state headquarters in Austin. Yet I missed the grit of a combat unit so when the year in the public affairs detachment was up, I went to A Troop, 1-124th CAV and became an E-6 in the Infantry squad of the Temple-based troop. You can trust me on this. There are no finer people to be in the field with than Texas National Guard troops. Every weekend we went to north Fort Hood’s brush, and it was fine training, especially when troop worked against troop. I always came home happy after those weekends, and had the extra-added benefit of learning about the same training areas, which regular soldiers used. Being able to walk the walk and talk the talk is just vitally important in any National Security activity. The Army again sent me back to DINFOS at Fort Benjamin Harrison and this time I took the Public Affairs Officer course. When I returned to Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned to be the III Corps public information officer.

One day at work I looked up and there were three officers from the Texas Army National Guard. They knew I was one of their staff sergeants so we a yes sir kind of conversation, which as it turned out was a question from the Texas AG, MG Willie Scott, asking if I would consider becoming a direct commission captain and spending weekends back in Austin as a Public Affairs officer. My internal SSG heart leaped, I passed the physical, and then it was time for summer camp. Two sets of orders arrived, one with the cav troop as a SSG, and one with a brigade to be the PAO as a captain. I called state headquarters and asked what to do. I was told to do what I wanted, and of course captain pay was higher…but I was initially somewhat in a pickle about how to properly act. I knew the work. I knew Fort Hood, which was hosting the annual training, but suddenly becoming “one of them” was a mindset not easily achieved. Fortunately, the Texas NG officers took me in hand and quickly–well, over the course of a year– got me squared away.

The Army then asked me to go to Korea to be the speechwriter for General John Wickham who were the UNC/ROK-US CFC/USFK CinC, and EUSA CG. In Korea I spent a year as a USAR Civil Affairs officer, until reserve duty interfered with regular DAC responsibilities and I resigned at about the 18-year point. My plan was to return to the states after the Korea tour and to finish out my -20 or -30 as an NCO, but life did not allow that plan to happen. I never did get to work for General Wickham and think that to be sad. I have great admiration for his style of leadership. Instead, I learned how to be a four-star’s speechwriter during the time General Robert Sennewald was the CINC. I am very grateful for all he taught me about application of words to the mission. The next two CINCs had been battalion commanders of Infantry in the Vietnam War, General Bill Livsey and General Lou Menetrey. They were great people to work for, and to assist in various ways during those stressful times. Initially General Livsey thought I was just a DAC and our initial meeting was tense. He asked if I knew what it meant to be a soldier. I told him of my background, and we just seemed to click. I did understand things he said to me, that I doubt other DACs lacking military experience would have, It was the same with General Menetrey. My job was to listen, sometimes as the hair was let down, and to keep my mouth shut about various conversations. It was also to think about things from a 4-star viewpoint, as words were selected, but not to try and be a four-star myself, nor to be some sort of mind reader.

I had two tours as speechwriter in Korea, and was directly invited back by General Livsey to have the second tour. All elements of the military world are important, air, land, and sea, and joint and combined activity is a must in our modern world. I was able to grow into a speechwriter position because of the time I had spent in the reserve components, learning the daily business of soldiering or of being an airman. To anyone considering a National Security career—and now I am talking directly to people who want to be federal civilian employees– never forget that people are the most important resource. The best way to understand that fact is to invest some personal time in being a reserve member. To walk the walk and to talk the talk gives you linkage and credibility with colleagues of all types and with the people you serve. In all cases, whatever the task or the position, always adhere completely and wholeheartedly to proper military standards because they are the foundation stones of National Security.

  1.  What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from your NS time?

My answer would be found in an exploration of the armed forces, and why they are needed.

My wife and I are both from frontier stock, in my case going –it is alleged in family records–back perhaps to a sailor who made a voyage to Jamestown, and more provable, family to family to family, through New England, New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky, back to the Pilgrims and the landing in 1620. The great great great (whatever) grandparents back then were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. My wife’s people were latecomers and did not come to North America until the Civil War, that is the English Civil War. In both cases, they were in North America at least a couple, and more likely more, of generations before the American Revolution.

I am a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the organization traced my lineage on my mother’s side to a colonel named Emerson, though I really wanted to get in on the organization based on the memory of a soldier and his son who both died the harsh winter at Valley Forge. My dad was born in 1904, and did not marry until he was 40. He only had one arm, so in World War II he served in the Illinois State Guard. His father, my grandfather, was born right after the Civil War, but had a brother (my great uncle) who was in Mr. Grant’s Army at Vicksburg. In that same war we had a distant relative who was a Confederate general officer, a man named Rodes. My great grandfather had moved from Kentucky up into Illinois just before the Black Hawk War, and served in that fight in company with a member of the force named Lincoln.

We had people in the Mexican War and the War of 1812, struggles out along the frontier, and then, as I mentioned, in the Revolution. Before that time, family members served in colonial militia, and in the struggles clear back to King Phillip’s War, as well as many skirmishes on the frontier. We had family with Daniel Boone’s company, down on the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky. One of the family members from New Hampshire, earlier, was a woman who was kidnapped by Canadian Indians and repeatedly raped as she was being taken north. One night all the Indians, six or seven, went to sleep without posting a guard. She laid hands on a tomahawk and killed them all, then made her way south. Another family member back in colonial times was a man who shot a sheriff. They branded him on his thumb for doing so, but he survived. Tough times and tough people.

Those are the folks I come from, and the tradition continued through the times of the 20th century. I had a great uncle with General Pershing’s AEF in France in World War I. Another uncle, my mother’s half brother, was a sailor in the war, and also made it to France. In World War Two I had a cousin who was a Marine in the islands and then immediately after the war was a China Marine, who was recalled for Korea. He carried a BAR, a weapon I also became familiar with myself in Libya in 1962. Another cousin was one of the Merrill Force Marauders in Burma. Our folks were always out on the edge in the westward movement. When I was three my grandfather Fulton gave me a rusted shut revolver he had carried many years before. My mother had a freak about that, but I was fascinated—and hooked. My own grandchildren are going to inherit a raft of firearms. My great grandparents are buried in Havre, Montana. All mentioned because it was a constant struggle for us Americans as we went west, and built a Nation that then was filled in by a lot of Johnny Come Latelys.

So what?

Well, information mentioned because every event in our own nation building was done by ancestors of people alive today. We all come from tough and hearty stock, though some earlier than others, and we all have a shared History that had, at bedrock, a foundation based on courage. It wasn’t just the Indians and the British and the French and the Mexicans that had to be faced. It was also disease, wild game, wilder rivers, outlaws, harsh weather, unknown terrain that required the achievement of knowledge about, to then overcome. After we became a Nation, our local and colonial militias became a national Army and a national Navy, with a Marine Corps. Later we also had a Coast Guard and we had an Air Force, too. Why did we need these things, especially in times that were allegedly peaceful (though peace was always questionable out on the frontier).

Take the Army. What good was it for us to waste a lot of tax dollars on such a structure, long thought to be a warehouse for drunks and vermin. Wellllllll, my take on that – and keep in mind I wore a uniform some – is that people having such opinion are just ignorant, and are people who lacked the fortitude to serve themselves.

Let me tell you what an Army is all about, besides being a structured fighting force with a proud winning heritage, especially in Vietnam.

An Army is a place for a young citizen to make a personal contribution to society and to the Nation. Years spent in service are times to mature and to gain awareness of the importance of discipline and of service.

The United States Military, especially the Army, was a force that provided protection, and in a lot of different ways. It trained and educated much needed engineers. These were the map drawers, the cartographers, who surveyed the west and laid out the networks of roads and railroads.

It was the Army, which brought education to remote western settlements, as well as healthcare, law and order.

It was the Army—Zebulon Pike, Lewis and Clark– who went “out there” and then came back and told all of us of the vast potential of the frontier.

It was the Army that ran the Military Road, which linked a fort near St Paul, Minnesota with posts or cantonments in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This road was patrolled by soldiers, with plains tribes on one side and settlers on the other. It was the army that defended the Santa Fe Trail and had posts out along the Oregon Trail. It was the Army that first patrolled Yellowstone Park, and which handled issues of safety and security in Alaska.

It was the Army which learned, applied and taught the importance of science and technology to National Defense – communications, medicine, dental care, flight– all things having national applications. It was the Army, which laid out and built the network of roads and highways, by applications in which so many ways motorized the Nation, investigated and applied microwaves and use of the chip now so common in so many gadgets and computers. It was the military, indeed, that first used computers, and which also led the way into outer space.

So why have an Army? Do we need one? You bet.

  1.  What was one of the most difficult experiences you faced during your NS time?

The citation is the way Colonel Al Lynn, 7th Air Force Director of Information saw my duty performance, he and other supervisors. To properly answer your question, I believe I need to tell you how I remembered that same period, especially those months of February, March, April and May 1968, the time the decoration was all about.

I had been trying to get a Vietnam assignment since 1963, but it did not happen until October 1 of 1967. I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, actually Kimpo airfield to Tan Son Nhut air base, and was assigned to 7th Air Force DXI, headquartered at Tan Son Nhut, a sprawling military location that hosted MACV plus the 7th Air Force, headquarters, a large number of many types of aircraft (RF-101s, F-4s, C-130s, C-123s, C-124s, C-133s, AE-1s, O-1s, indeed, at one time or another, every different kind of plane that flew in the theater, at one time or another), and was also the Republic of Vietnam’s largest civilian airfield. The place was so large it took a battalion strength of USAF cops, plus twice as many RVN police and VNAF cops to secure it during each 8-hour shift. The RVN Vice President lived at Tan Son Nhut, and there was a large Air America (CIA) aviation operation located there.

Every day many soldiers rotated through the installation, some going R and R, others home in body bags shipped by the war’s largest mortuary. Tan Son Nhut is where the war was run from, and was the home of General William Westmoreland during his time in Vietnam. There were tremendous support facilities, miles of parking spaces, miles of runway, and many different encampments and housing spaces, some in three story concrete barracks, others in squad-sized a-frame huts that were surrounded by chest high walls of sandbags. The perimeter had left over fortifications from the French days, plus miles of minefields and wire entanglements. Inside the base there were crisscrosses of fortifications, plus homes for VNAF families, lots of clubs, a massive base exchange facility. If it flew or was connected to the war, it was on Tan Son Nhut, and that includes the large helicopter field that was also inside the perimeter, in fact quite close to where I worked.

When I first got to Vietnam I was assigned to the in-country airlift commanded headed by a one star general. It was an interesting organization, with lots of planes coming in from overseas but then lots of flights going out to places in Southeast Asian locations. The general flew a lot of C-123 missions himself and took along his Public Affairs troops to write stories about what we saw. I would have been happy doing that the entire tour but the stories written went through the 7AF DFXI and MACV clearance and distribution mechanism and I soon found myself with a sort of promotion, I was sent to the 7AF DXI Internal Information and Special Projects unit, given the job of writing reports about Air War North, the Rolling Thunder missions in North Vietnam.

I got up about 0230 each morning, went to the intelligence facility and was given unclassified information about the previous days strikes, the crews and their home towns, unit of assignment (usually at an air base in Thailand), and results of the strike. This series of paragraphs was then added to similar work done about in-country air missions. The editor reviewed the work, and then forwarded it to MACV for review and clearance. It came back to us with corrections, which were done, then was retyped into a document having a letterhead. Several hundred copies were made to be released that evening at the Joint US Public Affairs Office daily briefing about all phases of the war for the past 24 hours, and given to the civilian media present. This was the infamous Five O’Clock Follies. I did this work until Rolling Thunder ended, then having a new staff sergeant stripe, was put in charge of in-country distribution of the 7th Air Force NEWS, a weekly metro sized newspaper printed in Tokyo at the Stars and Stripes facility in Raponggi.

It was my job to gather cleared stories and features, as well as photos, and to send them to a pair of USAF Msgts in Tokyo who put the newspaper together, and then ship large pallets of papers back to Tan Son Nhut that I and assistants broke down and sent around to the various air bases. I also had some special projects to do, one of which was a collection of weekly clips about the war from magazines and newspapers both in the states and elsewhere, given to the generals.

In January 1968, 12 of us NCOs had been moved from a three story concrete barracks to a hut in the camp near the entrance to the heliport. The end of the month there were rumors that the enemy was going to attack Tan Son Nhut. Several of us had walked to the BX and, coming back, had stopped to chat with Army guards on the entrance of the heliport. They knew we had no weapons so told us that, if anything happened, to try and get to their position for cover. We said we would. That night none of us took off our clothes or our boots, but we did try and sleep. I remember waking up about 0300 and seeing a stream of heavy machine gun tracer fire ripping over the top of the hooch about 12 feet up. Most went for the bunkers in the immediate area. Some men from other duty sections and myself ran to the heliport. Flares and tracer streams were popping all over the place. To get to work we had to cross the helicopter landing field, go over a perimeter fence, down in a ditch, cross a road and then climb a board fence into the 7AF Headquarters area, the place where the HQ was, the O Club, the NCO Club, the Airman’s Club, the library, the headquarters squadron office, the buildings of the DXI, the buildings of various other staff functions, and a large clump of trailers where senior staff lived. Down in the shadows of the ditch, there was a security police gun jeep and they almost shot us but we were hollering. They covered us as we climbed the board fence. There were VC snipers throughout the area, and exchanges of fire were heard from near and far.

I arrived at the colonel’s office right after Master Sergeant Bob Need, NCOIC of the combat news branch, and Tsgt Dave Lardy who was a 600 Photo Squadron photographer who had been assigned to DXI for his tour. Our officers all lived in villas downtown and were trapped by street fighting. Bob and Dave were scrounging revolvers from the desks of our colonels and were also loaded up with helmets and flak jackets plus a couple cameras each. They were headed for the end of the runways where several regiments of Viet Cong were attempting to enter the base and were being held off by USAF Security Policemen. I wanted to go with them but Msgt Need ordered me to stay and to get the directorate up and running. I was to try and contact our officers, especially Colonel Lynn, and report status, plus to keep in touch with the base command post. They left and I started working the phones. This was inside a plywood building. A gunfight erupted just outside between a couple of cops and a couple of VC. I took my phone with me and worked from under the deputy DXI’s desk. Desk. It was not until 1600 hours that one of our officers finally found a way to get in. We had sent out one short news feature by Teletype to MACV for clearance. It was approved and we teletyped it on down to JUSPAO downtown. Lots of photos were taken by Need and Lardy, but several of their cameras were severely damaged during the fighting, as they fell on them.

The next few days were very tense. That first night there was a major company sized fight just outside the fence from the base exchange. We saw tracers go in many directions; tracers of various colors, plus a red flare went up at one point, which signaled a breakthrough. The only weapon I had was a sheath knife. Soon though a green flare popped which meant the enemy had been stopped. I think the soldiers involved were ARVN. We also had a lot of Army support, a cav squadron raced in and heavily engaged. Army helicopters, including Snakes (AH-1s) fired rockets and 40mm grenades plus machine guns. It went on all day. I saw two men shot off the top of water towers. We had rounds hit around us as we tried to gather stories in the daytime. I did a story about Ssgt Clarence Stokes who was NCOIC of the armored cars and the ammunition resupply trucks for the security police. He had been my flight commander in Libya in 1963 and 1964.

By the second day all the troops were in, and regular work was under way. At night we started receiving 122mm rockets. We had several wounded and two killed in the directorate, SGT Rick Ramsey and Airman John Kopfer, both now listed on Panel 40-E of the Vietnam Wall. They died in mid-February. Rick had been my first friend in country. One night Charlie hit Tan Son Nhut with a barrage of about 80 rockets. Afterwards only three aircraft on the base had not been hit.

In the end of February the combat news organization needed to be reestablished. Rick was dead, Bob Need was wounded so badly that he had to be medically discharged, all the rest were in field hospitals in Saigon or else had been shipped to Cam Ranh Bay. Up-country manning was very bad too. The colonel re-assigned me to Combat News Branch as a military journalist and sent me to the Information Office at DaNang to write stories about Air Force activities in I Corps in support of Marine and Army units.

I went to Hue several times, and also to Dong Ha and the end of March made it to Khe Sanh. The siege was still going on. We went in on a Marine helicopter because no fixed wings were landing and shot a lot of film of Marines defending the base camp, and of USAF air attacks in the vicinity. Once our film was gone we were able to go out on the first fixed wing that actually landed. There was a lot of incoming fire, some mortars, and some small arms. I saw a Marine shot in the head and others wrapped in ponchos. The night we were there we acted as spotters for a team of Marines using a .50 HMG loaded with tracer to mark enemy shooters firing at the camp, that were then engaged by Marine riflemen. From DaNang we flew several missions aboard C-47 Spooky aircraft operating in I Corps. On one of the flights, near Hue, we fired at a sampan believed to be carrying rockets. It exploded. I also went with civil affairs personnel to take supplies to refugee camps in Hue. That mission was aboard a C-7A cargo plane of the USAF, and was the first fixed wing to land at the Hue city strip. I also flew aboard PSYOP O-2 aircraft that was working a section north of the DMZ. The area came under fire from an offshore destroyer while we were there. That mission got me a Yankee Air Pirate Patch for my flight suit.

I sent out a lot of stories that 59 days and then was sent back to Tan Son Nhut. We landed right in the time of the mini-Tet fighting. My boss in I Corps sent Colonel Lynn a nice letter for my records, and I think that was part of the decision to award me the Bronze Star. He was Lt Col Al Cochrane, a fine man to work for. I was talking about Khe Sanh and used the pronoun “we” because we did a lot of work as a small team, which included a sound and radio man, a motion picture photographer, and a still photographer in addition to the cameras I also used. In all that time of those four months anything accomplished was always done as a team effort.

Later in 1968 I also did field team work in II Corps and in III Corps, twice in company with 8th Aerial Port Combat Controllers Tsgt Morty Freeman and Sgt Jim Lundy. They were the two Lt Col Joe Jackson earned the Medal of Honor picking up from Kham Duc Special Forces Camp when it was over run. We also worked with 25th ID soldiers and with 5th SF soldiers at Trang Sup and Thien Hnong SF camps. Personnel of combat news were on non-crew member flying status and we flew a lot of different kinds of missions, always writing accounts of them.

In early 1969 I was given the job of working for a captain and setting up an installation Office of Information for Tan Son Nhut, I had this job until my time in Vietnam ended (23 months) the first of September of 1969. I was also awarded a USAF Commendation Medal. (See picture below)

  1. What advice would you give new personnel thinking about starting a career in National Security? (See picture below)

Fulton Interview – Part 1

Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.


  1.  How would you define National Security and in what capacity have you been involved with United States National Security.  How did you get involved? (Approximate dates and job titles if possible).

My federal career started with enlistment in the USAF in 1962. When the Cuban Missile Crisis hit, I was in Air Police School at Lackland. In December that year I arrived at Wheelus Air Base in Libya for an 18-month assignment.  This was followed by time at a SAC base in Arkansas, then assignment to Korea for 13 months, and to Vietnam for 23 months.

I left the service as a SSgt holding the Bronze Star and the USAF Commendation Medal for work in the information career field during my second enlistment.  My work had been in public affairs and included duty as a wing historian and also an assistant to the 7th AF historian.  My first enlistment I had been an Air Police sentry dog handler.  I went to the university world and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in History. During this time I was active with reserve components of the US Army.  In 1977 I was hired to be a GS-7 Army civilian and to serve as managing editor of the Fort Leavenworth LAMP. I then worked in Public Affairs at Fort Hood, in Korea, in St. Louis, at Dugway Proving Ground, back in Korea, in Chicago and at Fort Jackson.  I am a graduate of the Department of Defense Information Specialist Course, the DINFOS Public Affairs Officer course, and the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course.  I reached GS-12/Step 8, was cut back by Army downsizing to GS-11/Step 10 due to downsizing, and wound up as a USACE YA-02 when recalled for Katrina duties. Along the way I met some great people, and really liked my job.  The Army awarded me the civilian equivalent medal to the Legion of Merit, for duty as a speechwriter in Korea.  As a retiree I am most interested in helping to inform concerning our Nation’s involvement in Libya for the 20 years after World War II.

As one who spent decades in the world of Military Public Affairs, the way I have come to think about a definition of National Security is the same manner in which I think about responsibilities with regard to command information, public information and community relations. In Public Affairs, we old timers came to think about the process as akin to safety and security, meaning it is everyone’s task, everyone’s responsibility. In a much greater sense, National Security is the same way. In and out of government service, every citizen has the personal obligation and the personal responsibility to be aware of, to be involved with, and to in all ways promote National Security. That is because the bedrock of our society is the United States Constitution.

Everything about us as a Nation depends upon this document, in terms of interpretation, and in terms of application. As a person reads the document, and sees the task of application by the executive branch and the legislative branch, and in terms of safeguarding proper applications of authority, the judicial branch, it is crystal clear that Freedom cannot endure without the sanctions, protections and the authorities of government at large. To be Free, Americans must always be made aware of, and understand, the costs. They must also comprehend the challenges, and then, in a variety of ways, provide the wherewithal to meet them.

To somewhat narrow the focus of this discussion, please permit a consideration of all who serve; civilians employed in all offices of government, uniformed personnel in the various entities, including the Department of Defense, but also some other departments in peacetime, in which abide coastal defense, and operations of health and transportation. These are not singular tasks and groups. Instead, it is all part of a large and very complicated circle, the outer perimeter of which constitutes the entity called National Security, a complex and intricate interlinked network, which has so many different kinds of ways and means to constitute the whole.

Differences aside, there is a commonality—the oath taken by all of the Federal Government to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now, most of what follows involves words and paragraphs devoted to personal military experiences; but the foundation of such discussion for me—and for every veteran of government, especially the military—is that the act of discharge and retirement does not mean release from the oath. We who served followed unique and courageous traditions; we took that oath clearly and distinctly, and in lifetime it always remains with us. Without a Constitution there is no United States; a Nation rests on the sum of the parts of its Constitution, and not on this or that interpretation or debate of individual points.  This is what I have come to understand in a lifetime spent with various attachments and relationships of service.

I was raised in a single parent childhood by an employee of a TB hospital operated by the Administration of Veterans Affairs. My mother worked in house cleaning and as I grew up, would hear stories told to her by patients—men who had fought in the Spanish American War, World War One, World War Two and Korea. When I was 16, an explorer scout, the Air Force Reserve gave us aerial navigation course, along the way telling many stories about life in the service. I was hooked, and shortly after turning 17 visited the local Air Force recruiter. He told me I first had to finish high school (which I hated and didn’t do all that well in) before I could go to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Six days after graduation I made that journey. From the very first day I liked being in the Air Force, which decided I should become an Air Policeman. That is the technical school I was sent to, and in the Air Force I began to grow up. Aside from training, the first real world event to surface which made me do some intensive thinking about who I was and what I was doing was the Cold War Cuban Missile Crisis. My flight was pulled from the classroom and we took over as the Lackland Base Police while those having the duty were forward deployed to bases in Florida. When they came home, they assumed the base police role and we returned to the classroom, only now with a much more precise knowledge about what it meant to be a cop and to protect an installation.

My first duty assignment was at Wheelus Air Base, about six miles east of Tripoli, Libya. I spent 18 months at Wheelus, in the 7272nd Air Police Squadron, first in regular law enforcement flight operations for a few months, serving as a BAR gunner in base alerts, and then mostly as a sentry dog handler, guarding remote locations. North Africa is always a cauldron, as true in the early 1960s as it is today. What I gained in Libya provided a crisp foundation for the stresses faced in later Asian locations; all a cumulative process. In Libya I spent a week on a bodyguard detail for the Monarch and his wife, when they came to the base hospital for some medical treatment. That was King Idris. I was handed an M-2 carbine and locked into an open bay, right next to the King’s suite. He honored me by insisting I was the youngest present during the first night of the annual Ramadan, and should be fed first. Other Libyan experiences I remember include spending the night on the beach with dog and M-2 (normally we carried side arms and occasionally shotguns) right after President Kennedy was killed; going to Cyrenia, landing at the Bennina Air Port at Benghazi, and going as part of a field hospital up the escarpment to the earthquake destroyed town of Barce (Al Marj); being at the bomb dump with three other handlers and a regular Air Policeman in the spring of 1964 when a group of Libyans flooded across the stone wall into the five square mile facility. In that early morning hour experience we were ordered to release all four dogs and then to fall back to the strong point in the middle where we set us an M-1919A6 .30 caliber machine gun and spent a long night until relieved at daylight. It was a long night. A lot was then going on throughout Tripoli. All of our dogs were bloody but unhurt.

In June of 1964 I returned to the United States and was assigned to a Strategic Air Command Base in Arkansas, where I served the rest of the enlistment as a sentry dog handler. The Vietnam War was building so I decided to re-enlist, but I cross-trained into the Information field, today called Public Affairs. As I trained I served as the sports reporter, an assistant in public information, and learned photojournalism. After I passed the necessary tests to be rated a five level, I was given the necessary security level and assigned for nine months as the wing historian. I volunteered for Vietnam but was sent to Korea in the early fall of 1966. Instead of being a military journalist I was put back to work in the Air Police. I was offered a dog but declined, so was assigned to Air Police Investigations for a few months, then when the pipeline produced an access of cops was sent to the Air Forces Korea newspaper, The DEFENDER, to be a features writer. It was an interesting job that let me see all of the Republic of Korea as it was 13 years after the signing of the armistice (very different than what it now is).

In 1967 I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, specifically Kimpo Airfield to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and was assigned as a photojournalist within 7th Air Force Directorate of Information Combat News Branch. There were several different kinds of jobs in that 23 months before the 1969 discharge, but primarily I wrote features and did the necessary photography, mostly on bases but sometimes in the field. I was also put on non-crew member flying status to do the required coverage, and flew a variety of mission types aboard cargo planes and helicopters, and also aboard Shadow and Spooky gunships. I returned to the USA in early fall 1969 to honorable discharge and to enrollment in the Kansas State College of Pittsburg, later renamed Pittsburg State University. When I came home from Vietnam I was a staff sergeant who had a Bronze Star (M) for work during Tet, and a USAF Commendation Medal for having helped establish a base level Office of Information at Tan Son Nhut in 1969. I was the NCOIC of that operation, experience that would be very valuable in the years ahead.

To help pay for college I tried some jobs in civilian journalism but eventually went back to law enforcement, as a Campus cop. I also paid for college expenses by membership in US Army reserve components, the Kansas National Guard for several years where I was an Infantryman, and then in the compression program of USAR ROTC at the university. As a reserve soldier I eventually worked my way to captain. I did both undergraduate and graduate level studies at PSU. In 1977, the US Army offered me a GS-7 level job as post newspaper editor at Fort Leavenworth. My goal had been to become a community college instructor so I took the Leavenworth job, thinking it would be income while I searched for an opening. It wasn’t long though before I realized I really liked Public Affairs management, so I quit my teaching job hunt and applied myself to the DAC job.

My civilian career gave me a lot of opportunity; I attended and graduated from the Department of Defense Information School’s Information Specialist Course and the Public Affairs Officer Course, a PME course in Korea, and the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course at the College of Journalism University of South Carolina. It was all great training, with some wonderful colleagues as fellow students and PA practitioners. What I had learned as an NCO in the USAF and in the Army reserve components directly applied to the earliest jobs at Forts Leavenworth and Hood, being accountable for young troops and for senior folks as well in the various daily tasks of Public Affairs.

At Fort Hood as a GS-9 I provided daily leadership for a platoon strength of military journalists. In my mind I just remembered what some great NCOs – SMSgt Marcus Grant, SSgt Clarence Stokes, MSgt Harvey Inouye, and TSgt Joe Covolo – had taught me about duty performance and accountability. It worked like a charm, yet the higher up the ladder I climbed, fewer and fewer came the opportunities for daily contact with the people who were really making the Public Affairs process work. I missed that contact, and highly valued it when it briefly happened. At Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned as III Corps Public Information Officer, a job that allowed a lot of daily contact with some truly excellent Soldiers.

As an Army civilian, I served twice in the Republic of Korea as a speechwriter for the generals and others of senior leadership, simultaneously as a writer in the US Army Aviation Systems Command and in the US Army Troop Support Command in St. Louis, as the installation Public Affairs Officer for Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, as deputy PAO in North Central Division US Army Corps of Engineers then at the Fort Jackson PAO. I reached GS-12, Step 8, and had extra duties that were interesting such as being the career program manager on the side for the -22 program at the MACOM in Korea, and was also given additional tasking of command interest.

We returned to the United States in 1990 and almost immediately heard about Army Downsizing and Corps of Engineers consolidation. My job in Chicago was eliminated, and I was offered a GS-12 job with HUD. My life had been spent in the Department of Defense so I looked around a bit, talked to some folks, and was then offered a GS-11 deputy PAO slot that was open in TRADOC at Fort Jackson. It was GS-11, Step 10, a pay cut of several thousand dollars, but I took it, thinking I could find a GS-12 job on down the road. Instead, Fort Jackson experienced another round of downsizing and my position was eliminated. I was offered a GS-7 job in supply but decided instead to take early retirement, something I really hated to do.

We moved back to Kansas and I found a job in television news, and then a job working as an adjunct instructor at a community college. When Katrina came in, the US Army Corps of Engineers offered me a job in Mississippi as a rehired annuitant. I went to southern Mississippi expecting to be assigned way out on the fringe of the operation, but instead, within a month, I was the USACE Recovery Field Office PAO at Keesler Air Force Base, with responsibility for four field offices. The reason for the selection was previous disaster experience (the Underground Flood Fight in Chicago). At that time most of the USACE PA resources were assigned overseas and manpower was at a premium. I was in Mississippi for a total of five months, and then was kept on stand-by, unpaid another year and a half in case another major hurricane came in.

In retirement I have worked as a volunteer with the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War. It is a very special program. Information about this congressionally funded DOD program can be found at www.vietnamwar50th.com.  These days I am again retired, read a lot (as I have always done) and continue to be as knowledgeable as possible about world affairs and US National Security affairs and events. In that regard, the Internet is a wonderful device!

The last point in response to this question concerns a philosophy that was branded in my heart and mind and soul by a SAC colonel named Paul Handy. Early in the assignment of being a bomb wing historian, he saw the job was weighing heavily on my then E-4 Airman First Class shoulders. The officer was known as a typical gruff SAC leader, but he took the time to sit down with me and talk about the situation. My first enlistment had mostly involved time spent in the enlisted community. Now, all of a sudden, I was around a lot of officers and even some colonels. It was scary. What Colonel Handy did was to point to a model of a B-52 aircraft and to explain how every nut and bolt was important in order for the aircraft to fly and protect peace. We talked some about the SAC motto, “Peace is our profession,” and then he gave me a linkage of a few words – his own motto– which have been with me ever since. The colonel taught me to believe in PRIDE as an acronym with each letter standing for this: Professional Results In Daily Effort.

In all the days and years since that talk, I have always used the colonel’s words as an anchor point, and it has always worked, regardless of circumstances, even directly working for four-star generals!

  1.  Was there a particularly funny or comedic experience?

Ahhhh, Libya, and life in the barracks. It was towards the end of the month, our dog flight was on break, and none of us had any money—not even the quarter necessary to buy a movie ticket. It was a Saturday. We lived two blocks from the Med but had spent month after month of going to the beach. We were tired of shooting pool with broom handles, and of playing hand after hand of penny ante poker—there had to be something to do. Somebody spoke up. The base service club (a place we all religiously avoided, for some unknown reason) had a bus trip set up to go to Leptus Magna, the ruins of an ancient Roman city located roughly in the same area that ISIS now controls.

We decided to go and collected our water bottles. “I do have a new kind of pop”, Troy said, “I bought it payday but haven’t tried it yet; I’ll stick it in my camera bag”. So off we all trooped to the service club, boarded the primitive and shaky GI bus (think “old school bus”) and set off for an hour and a half or so trip to Magnus. There were a bunch of us doing this 1963 trip—Ted Baldwin, Russ Clark, Terry Seats, Ken Ward, Troy Lyons and myself. We drank our canteens dry, and then discovered there was no water supply on the bus, nor was their water available at the site.

Well, we trooped the city, walked the old tile roads, explored the coliseum, checked out all the eight-foot tall headless statues that someone over the ages had vandalized, and we stripped to our undies and went for a swim, trying to see what lay under the water. It was a neat day, except for the fact we had no water. Most of us had seen this city before, in a 1950s movie with John Wayne and Sophia Loren. We all took many photos, then trooped off to the bus to start the long ride home, back to Wheelus Air Base. The wheels were moving and we were on the Homs Road headed west. “Troy”, someone said, break out the pop, “We’ll share. We’re thirsty”. So our non-drinking friend did. He had bought a six-pack—of quinine water, to make gin and tonics with. It was a long thirsty trip home, and Troy couldn’t understand why we threw the empty cans at him.

Ahhhhh, Korea, and life in the Namsan Foreigners Village, a complex of two large concrete towers near the Hyatt Hotel, up on Namsan Mountain. This was home for international families, and once counted as representing over 40 separate Nations. A few service members lived there but most of the Americans were civilian employees down at Yongsan Garrison, at the bottom of the mountain. Most of the American families were long-term residents. We lived there during both of the speechwriter assignments. We even drew the same apartment, 1212-A Dong. On that second tour, my neighbor across the hall was a retired US Army chaplain (Major) who now worked at 8th Army’s recreation services. Bob had spent a lot of time in Vietnam and then in VA hospitals, before retirement. He taught himself a lot of magic tricks, involving playing cards, and making animals out of long tubular balloons. Bob was bored, so he started a clown troop of himself as the boss clown and the rest of us, five or six others, as his minions.

We all went whole hog with clown suits, face paint, floppy shoes, even red noses. We went to many organizational events and unit parties, and became—in a Yongsan sort of way—quite famous. It was the time of high school graduation, and the US Ambassador and his wife threw a yard party at the residence for the graduates. Bob was contacted and asked to provide a clown troupe. Now at the time there were a lot of street demonstrations going on, and the ROK riot police had their Black Maria paddy wagons out, along with many stick carrying troops, and a lot of pepper fog.

I didn’t hide fast enough, so Bob picked me to go with him, primarily because my son was one of the graduates and was taken to the residence in an escorted bus. Bob and I donned our makeup, dressed up, put on our noses, and called for a PX taxi. When it showed up, and the driver learned where we wanted to go, he didn’t want to take us. We paid double and off we went, down through a lot of clouds, horns honking, people yelling, and then we got caught in a traffic jam, right next to city bus full of students who were all scowling and carrying signs. Uh-oh. Bob thought fast and told me to start blowing up balloons. He made weenie dawgs and started handing them up through the window to the young people on the bus. Then he started doing card tricks. We sat there about half an hour, and finally decided to walk because it was only about six blocks. One of the students spoke English. We told him why we out and about, and where we needed to go. He got off the bus with about 15 or so friends, and they escorted us to our gig. I will never forget the Marine’s face when we showed up at the residence, dressed as clowns. It took some persuading to get in, but once inside we went on with the program—although most of the balloons were now gone. I thought that was the end of it, the ambassador didn’t seem mad, and I did have all that face paint on. How could anyone really tell who I was? Well, it was interesting who all said something to us the following week, and I am not telling who. Looking back, no harm, no fowl or foul or whatever, yet in retrospect we both should have known better. Just a couple of old Vietnam vets, having fun.

I grew up in a steel town in western Pennsylvania. Many of the workmen were from West Virginia and Kentucky. They were very opinionated about issues of race. My uncle was of those ranks, so when I enlisted in the Air Force I took with me a prejudice against people of other cultures and skin color. Eight years in the barracks mostly cured me of such foolishness, but what did the job the best was a friend I had in Vietnam. He was older than me and had been in close to twenty years, but I was an NCO and he was an airman so it took a bit for the walls to come down. Carl was a photographer, one of the best I have ever met. Now and then there would be things happening away from the air bases, out in what was called in Vietnam simply “the field.” This was a place you carried weapons and wore helmets and flak jackets. The 7AF Director of Information would ask for coverage of air force support activities, and off a small group of us would go. Our band usually included motion picture and still photography folks from the 600 Photo Squadron, and writers and radio tape folk from our combat news organization. We worked together. We helped each other carry tripods and so forth. We went to nasty places and learned what it was like to get shot at and to be mortared. Once my friend and I were on a Huey that had a mortar round explode right underneath us. That was an attention getter. Once we landed in what was supposedly a secure location, and started talking about what had just happened, doing this on a tape recorder, we looked way off into the distance and saw a man waving at us. We waved back. He waved again. We waved back. Then he stopped. We kept talking. When we got back to Tan Son Nhut and put the tape on a reel-to-reel machine with an amplifier, you could hear bullets snapping past us. We couldn’t hear them because we were wearing helmets.

So it is towards the end of Carl’s Vietnam tour. I had convinced his boss to assign him to the Office of Information at the base level, the same place I had been assigned to. Life was good. We were both short as was said and kicking back. Then the phone rang. It was a Vietnamese Air Force NCO we both knew, and had a good friendship with. He was in a panic. The Republic of Vietnam Vice President Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, a resident of the air base, needed a box of 8 x 10 portraits to be used as press handouts at the Paris Peace Talks. Our friend did not trust his photographers with such an assignment. Being young (or youngish) GIs I looked at Carl, who nodded, I grinned, and we said yes. Our captain was never around, so he didn’t know that an hour later a VNAF blue painted jeep showed up at the office door, we climbed in, and went downtown to the Presidential Palace where the Vice President had his office. As Vietnam’s top airman, he was a hard worker. His desk was a mess, papers all over the place. The Air Marshal came into the room, stood to his desk, sat down and fiercely scowled at our tripod-mounted camera. Carl asked that some of the piles of paper be moved a bit. There was a scowl but the papers were moved. Then Carl said, “Mr. Vice President, would you please smile?” Ky snapped “NO”! And Carl’s eyes got big. He looked at me, and being Mr. Cool, I said “Sorry sir”. Then Ky laughed. He had been toying with us. He did everything we asked, and Carl shot some wonderful portraits. We popped to attention but Ky was not done with us, and told us to come around to the other side of his desk where he showed us his submachine gun, laying on the shelf of a credenza behind him. And yes, he had on his revolver.

Now for the rest of the story. We went back to Tan Son Nhut and Carl went to the lab where he souped the film and started making prints. Some master sergeant wandered by, saw the pictures and went and got a lieutenant, who went to get a captain, who went to get some colonels—yes, more than one. “What’s this all about”, they asked. Carl had them call me. I explained how we were supporting VNAF. Very soon, Information Colonels were also involved. Our captain was still out there somewhere. Carl and I stood quiet and said “yes sir” a lot. However, one of the colonels had a sense of humor and he also liked Carl’s work, so we slid…but were told the next time the Vice President wanted something to be sure and mention it.

Well, that was Vietnam; to this very day I miss my friend. We lost track of one another. I think Carl moved back to Baltimore but I’m just not sure. I do know this. As skilled as he was with a camera I bet he made a fortune taking pictures at weddings! More weddings than Vice Presidents! Air Marshal Ky became American citizen Ky, and lived in Orange, California after the war. I still have a fond memory of the time he shared with us. A really neat gent!!

The first autumn I was an Army civilian employee, I was a GS-7 at Fort Leavenworth, a place where most people were majors. Second lieutenants were scarcer than hen’s teeth, and the one I found had just months before been a staff sergeant, the same stripes I wore on weekends in a Kansas National Guard unit. My wife and I became good friends with this couple. Mac was the officer in charge of a shop in a wing of the same building where the Public Affairs was located. He worked for a full colonel who decided to throw a Halloween Costume Party in his quarters. We were all invited. My wife sewed costumes for us that were supposed to be gray bats. When we got to the party we found Mac in Klu Klux Klan regalia, complete with mask and pointed hood. His wife was dressed in regular clothing, and told us, unlike her husband; she was dressed as a human being.

Mac and I immediately found the bar and did some drinking. Then the colonel announced that the fun and games of the evening would be a scavenger hunt. Most folks at the party were majors and formed teams together. Our wives ignored us, so we took the list, which included such things as a bloody Band-Aid and a B-B and a plastic clothespin and started wandering around in the late October evening of what was field grade housing. The routine was this. Go up to the door, knock, ask for an item, and then held out a shot glass. House after house. In the darkness, our costumes began to look alike.

Somebody called the M-Ps. It was a little old lady who told the desk that the Klan had invaded Fort Leavenworth. A young troop showed up and asked what we were doing. We told him. He started laughing, but then said to watch out for his NCOIC who was also headed in to take the call. Just then, another MP car showed up. This no nonsense NCO asked what we were doing. We showed him our list. He said, “Well, I must check this out, you two get in the back of the car”, and he drove to the senior colonel’s quarters where the party was located. He got out and started into the quarters. Our wives got big eyes when they saw us—still in costume—in the back of the patrol car. Some shrill voices erupted. The MP had everyone go into the quarters. Mac and I were left in the patrol car back seat. He had not taken our ID information. I looked at Mac. Mac looked at me. Staff sergeant-like smiles came out of nowhere. The sergeant had not locked the car. Quietly we escaped, I guess you could say, went around the quarters to the back door, shed our costumes, and then tiptoed into the back of the crowd to listen to the stern NCO trying to be stern with the crowd, most of whom had been in the sauce. We mixed in well. The NCO went back out to the car to get his prize subjects – and the car was open! The back door was open! Well, he left…and Mac and I did not win the costume contest nor the scavenger hunt, but we did make an impression, perhaps of the type no GS-7 or second lieutenant should ever do.

And about the KKK outfit, did I mention my friend was Black?

We had another adventure together, later. There was a community carnival my friend was in charge of. It was in November I think, and chilly. The boss of the carnival had ridden with Pancho Villa a long, long time back. Mac and I helped him empty a rum bottle and we learned a lot about the Texas border, back in the day. Being around Mac was always quite an education—and I loved every minute of it. My Army brother and his family moved on to a Pacific assignment and my wife, son and I went south to Fort Hood. After a few years of exchanging Christmas Cards, as in the military world only close friends do, we just lost track, but I have never forgotten him.

Oh, I should also say both the military police gents were Black also, but because we left our masks on, I don’t think he ever figured it out. Being a former military cop myself, the next day I did feel a little bit bad, but he really should have asked for our ID cards.

CPT Fulton's Career Awards

Awards and Commission CPT Fulton

Two photos from Captain Fulton’s history. One is his career awards and the other is his promotion to the rank of Captain.  Shows a great career and the pride of that career.

Thank you for sharing!

CPT Fulton's Career Awards

CPT Fulton’s Career Awards

 

Promotion of CPT Fulton

Promotion of Captain Fulton

 

The A-37 Dragonfly Story

Thank you to Col. Hank Hoffman for this presentation.

This briefing is not really going to be about me.  It’s about history and money and engineering, and I understood very damn little of it when I reported to the A-37 in 1970.

Let me take you back to 1967.  The Vietnam War was still expanding with 485,600 US troops on the ground.  I and 600 other crewmembers were flying B-52s into Vietnam out of Guam, so I’m not sure if this number included me.

Air Force tactics and strategy were dominated by nuclear doctrine. The Cold War Triad Doctrine consisted of nuclear weapons on alert in silos, submarines and bombers.  The Strategic Air Command, known by the acronym SAC, ran two of the three delivery systems.  And they were top dog in the procurement process.  The Tactical Air Command, TAC, ran fighter operations and money was not plentiful.

This was the age of the supersonic fighter, and TAC commanders were looking to the future.  They wanted new aircraft that were supersonic with the best technological advances.  This meant the century series fighters and the Navy’s F-4 were what they were interested in.  But they too were driven by the nuclear war paradigm.  The majority of the fighters were interceptors owned by ADC, Air Defense Command, meant to fly supersonic to a bunch of Russian bombers, take them down, and probably bail out, out of fuel over the frozen north.  Some of our bombers had the same “one way” tactic; hit the target and bail out in the fallout zone.  The Air Force used all of their fighter systems in Vietnam.  In fact, they often used the Vietnam conflict as a testing ground for new equipment.  The interceptors, the F-101, 102, 104 and 106 were completely ineffective in the CAS role.  That left the F-105 to bomb North Vietnam, and the F-100 for everything in South Vietnam.

Close Air Support, CAS, was not a mission dearly beloved by AF staff.  Air Superiority was what the AF was born to do, and that was most important to them.  CAS meant bombing near to friendly troops and it was the Army that wanted their troops supported.  The Air Force wanted to go fast and high and look cool.  In fact, Close Air Support had not been well supported by the AF since they separated from the Army in 1947.  During Korea there was a noticeable lack of radio contact between the air and the ground, but it did see the beginning of the Forward Air Controller, FAC.  The first FACs were required to be fighter pilots, and it was the beginning of a much despised role for them, flying low performance propeller aircraft, eating MREs and sleeping in the mud with the troops was less than attractive.  In my opinion, one of the best things about air combat was the clean sheets and air conditioning you got at the bases, not to mention the booze.

Most of the fighter bomb delivery systems were nuclear driven as well.  They sometimes used the “toss” bomb tactic, where you flew to the target on the deck, as low and fast as possible: then pulled straight up and released the bomb vertically, pulled hard to get back down to the deck and ran while the nuke continued up and, inevitably, down.  That accuracy was acceptable for nuclear bombs, which pretty much destroyed everything for miles, but was not conceivable for a Troops In Contact, TIC, situation.

So the AF used what was available for Close Air Support.  That was most often the F-100, and the Vietnamese Air Force also had the F-5 and the A-1 available.  Note that the F-4 had inherited the air superiority role from the F-86 and the F-100 by now, and was mainly used in the air to air mission.

US commanders were sometimes reluctant to trust the Vietnamese, but gleefully took help from anywhere they could when they were under fire.  The Vietnamese were generally very accurate; many of their pilots had thousands of bombing missions experience.  The Army did what they had to do and often supported their own troops with helicopters, but these did not carry heavy weapons and were vulnerable to enemy fire.  The AC-47 and the AC-130 were also being developed for CAS, but these also did not drop bombs.

Let me speak about bombing accuracy for a few moments, and I’ll start with the bottom line.  The closer you are to the target when you release the bomb, the easier it is to hit.  Having stated that fairly obvious rule, you needed to stay away from the target far enough to not get blown up with your own bomb or run into the ground trying to pull off the target, and yes, both things happened.  Furthermore, the closer you got to the target and the ground, the easier it was for the enemy to shoot you down.

Tactically, this meant trade-offs.  The safest way was to overfly the target and drop from altitude like the bomber.  I notice that is the tactic the Russian fighters are using in Syria.  I also notice their accuracy sucks.  This tactic is not suitable for a single pilot aircraft without a bomb sight in the bottom of the aircraft and was not used for Close Air Support.  And the accuracy is not nearly as good as that of dive bombing.  The Navy’s A-7 was the only fighter with a computing sight used in Vietnam, and it was only used in North Vietnam during this period, so it was not used for CAS.

Many of you will remember “cornering speed”, shown here at the intersection of stall and max g.  This is your minimum radius turn, with full power, and the speed that gets you away from the earth the fastest.  In swept wing aircraft, it was too high.  In the F-104 it is 450 knots.  As I recall it was 420 knots in the F-4.  The A-37 was designed to pull 4.8 gs at 320 knots, and it did it without losing speed.  This allowed you to work much closer to the earth.  The lower the cornering speed, the closer you can work to the target, and the less time you spend in the altitudes where small arms fire can reach you.

Another trade off was napalm.  It didn’t explode so you could drop it really low without blowing yourself up.  Nominal release altitude was 500 feet and accuracy was usually less than ten feet of error.  It was very, very handy for missions where the troops were in contact with the enemy.  It had a desirable side effect of denying the use of that burning ground for hours after the strike to the enemy.  Cluster Bomblet Units, CBU, were also delivered from very low passes, and is also rarely used now.  Of course, low passes means flying closer to the guys trying to shoot you down.

There are six variables in the bombing computation.

They are:

  1. Altitude above the target.
  2. Airspeed.
  3. Dive angle.
  4. G load.  Nominal one g is desired.
  5. Yaw angle.  This should always be zero.
  6. Wind.

It is clearly impossible to solve all these variables in your head, so what we did, back in the day, was pull up a pre-computed set of release parameters from the ballistics tables.  For example, for a Mk-82 500 lb bomb, dropped from 2500 feet at a 30 degree dive angle and 320 knots airspeed, the proper mil setting was 130.  So you set 130 in the sight, and then try to fly into an invisible funnel of all of those parameters exactly over where you want to bomb with a wind correction estimate.  While the enemy shoots at you.  And you talk on the radio and chew gum.

Our antique gun sight was little more than a fancy grease pencil mark on the windscreen.  The pipper started with zero, the centerline of the aircraft, and that setting was used for strafe.  The mils we so precisely set in it were fractions of an angle of depression below that centerline.  I fondly think of them as mille-micro-give-a-shits, because it was genuinely like marking a line with a micrometer and then using an axe to cut it.

That mil setting is really a measure of the drag, or the drop the weapon will have below the velocity vector for the selected conditions.  The velocity vector is easily found in the A-7 by a green triangle on the Heads Up Display, or HUD.  It can be found in any aircraft by pointing the bird at the ground and watching for the point that does not move up or down, left or right.  It is, after all, where you would make a hole if you don’t move the controls.

Let’s face it, the chances of hitting all those parameters while dodging enemy fire are damn small when you consider that your altimeter has lag and hysteresis errors, and your attitude indicator precesses to an unknown error every time you pull gs(spell out), which is every time you turn or try to evade that enemy fire.  So you end up compensating.  If you feel you are steep, you pickle a little high.  If you are slow, you pickle a little low.  It was the TLAR system. That Looks About Right.  When you were making on average eight bombing passes every day, you became proficient.  And of course you got to make corrections on the second pass, based on what you could see or what the Forward Air Control told you, perhaps for the wind that turned out to be different from your expectations.  Given all these difficulties, the squadron quickly earned an accuracy within 15 meters.  All things considered, a 500 pound bomb usually leaves a crater several hundred feet across, so hitting something within 50 feet was close enough for government work.  The post war CHEKO (Contemporary Historical Examination of Current Operations) Report gave it a remarkable 92.1% accuracy rate over its five year operational history.

Returning to the basics for a moment, you cannot work very close to the target if you are moving fast because you have to pull out of the dive without hitting the ground, and those supersonic fighters could not fly very slow and still pull 4 gs or more.  The F-4 typically dropped from 7000 feet at 500 knots.  You can barely see the target from that distance, and the F-4 was known to be inaccurate.  So inaccurate that it just was used only as a last resort for Close Air Support and was often an object of scorn among the Forward Air Controllers.  Can I get an “amen” from the FACs in the audience?

The A-1, manufactured in 1945 was the most accurate aircraft we had in Vietnam.  It bombed at 250 knots from 1500 feet.  But we were running out of them.  We gave 308 of them away to the Vietnamese and by 1973 we had none.  What we needed was a straight wing attack aircraft.

Back to 1967.  Motivated by the improbable combination of Jimmy Stewart and Barry Goldwater, the AF was coerced into reinvestigating the A-37 Dragonfly concept they had abandoned in 1955.  Pushed by Secretary of Defense McNamara and all but ignored by AF senior generals, the A-37 was created from retired T-37s in the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ and spare parts.  The wings were strengthened to carry eight hardpoints and two tip tanks.  A 7.65 “mini-gun” was added in the nose as well as an air refueling probe.  The engines from the T-38 were used, more than doubling the thrust from 1025 pounds to 2850 pounds each, and they were so powerful and so close to the ground that engine inlet screens were required for ground operations. They were also used when firing rockets.   The gross weight was increased from 6,580 pounds to 14,000 pounds.  A gun sight and a munitions panel were necessary additions and an FM radio was added for direct communication with the ground.  A refueling probe was added to the B model, but never used in Vietnam.  In fact, the crews were not qualified to do it.  Also unused in Vietnam was the “seat tank”, a fuel tank replacing the unused right ejection seat.  It provided 300 lbs of fuel for a 100 lb weight increase, and would all be used by level off.

The bird could carry 7,500 pounds of munitions compared to the 7,000 on the F-100.  It was usually operationally equipped with two 760 pound drop tanks for extra fuel.  This extra fuel allowed the A-37 to stay in the target area longer, often an hour if necessary, and even longer if one engine was shut down.  The other fighters were good for only 15 to 20 minutes, and that was another reason the FACs and the ground troops loved the new little fighter.

The outboard pylons could carry a 500 pound store, plus we had the strafe, which was generally too small to be really effective.  The A-1 could carry 8,000 pounds of munitions on 15 hard points, so we weren’t quite as good as aircraft built in 1945 , but we were faster and very, very easy to maintain and smaller and harder to hit.  We bombed from 2500 feet at 320 knots so we worked closer to the target than anyone but the A-1.  And if we used the snake eye bombs, we bombed from 1500 feet.  I once put one of those in a cave mouth smaller than a garage door.  The FAC went nuts.  While I was at Bien Hoa in 1970-71 we had aircraft hit by ground fire at one third the rate the F-100s had there, probably it was because we were one third their size.

Another factor the former businessman McNamara doubtless loved was the cost of the bird.  The A-37 ended up costing $161,000 per copy.  Compare that to $700,000 for an F-100 or $2.4 million for an F-4.  It also used about a third as much fuel.  The A-37 had the highest sortie rate in all of Southeast Asia.  During a test surge in April of 1968 the A-37 flew an incredible 6.31 sorties per aircraft per day over a three day period.  Efficiency was in the package!

While I’m on the subject of cost, smart bombs were on the way to Vietnam.  One way of increasing the accuracy of the supersonic fighters was to use a more accurate bomb.  Well, a Maverick AGM-65 missile costs about $130,000 and it was being developed at the same time the A-37 was being built.  It is not cost effective to use such a missile to take out a $3000 pickup truck, but it sure was high tech and cool and we bought thousands of them.   On the other hand, a 500 pound bomb cost about $400, but you had to be able to hit the target.

The first A-37 was delivered to the 604th ACS in May of 1967 at England AFB, LA.  By August, the aircraft was being tested in combat, the only aircraft ever so tested, straight into combat.  Colonel Heath Bottomly, commander of the Combat Dragon Task Force, met with 7th Air Force commander Spike Momyer when he arrived in Vietnam, and his description of that meeting typifies the respect the A-37 received.  Bottomly handed him his orders signed by the SecDef, McNamara, which stated that he was to be supported as he requested.  Momyer dropped the orders straight into his waste basket and said, “Colonel, you will operate where, when and how I tell you to.  Have a good war.”  Bottomly returned to Bien Hoa and started operations slowly, working up to a sortie level of 48 per day from his 30 aircraft.

The A-37 was not tested in combat by test pilots, but a group of pilots from all disciplines.  A few experienced fighter pilots, pilots straight from UPT, Undergraduate Pilot Training, former navigators and former bomber pilots.  This is possibly an indication of how unimportant the AF considered this program.  Thrown right into the crucible of war, this odd collection of pilots soon proved to be the most accurate bombers because they released their bombs closer to the target, closer to the enemy fire.  Project Combat Dragon lasted for the first four months of that first year in Vietnam, and before it was over they were already getting improved model aircraft.  The A-37A was replaced by the B model with still bigger engines.  It was so successful that operations continued there until the A-37 was the only remaining USAF fighter in Vietnam in 1972. The USAF flew over 75,000 combat sorties in the A-37 and lost only 13 of the approximately 350 pilots that flew the bird.

Let me digress for a moment and talk about Forward Air Controllers.  The first airborne FACs were in Korea, in the T-6.  By 1967 the requirement to have been a fighter pilot had been relaxed (We were in fact running out of fighter pilots.  The loss rate in Vietnam and the 100 mission tour was causing involuntary second combat tours for lots of pilots.  Operation Palace Chase was chasing all the staff pilots out of the staff and into Vietnam where the older Lt Colonels were usually useless.  It also permitted bomber pilots like me to get into a fighter!)  FACs could now come straight from UPT and go into the O-1, O-2 or brand new OV-10.  Ground attack was now done almost exclusively with an airborne FAC in control.  .

I remember going through A-37 training at England AFB, LA.  The instructor explained to me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t a real fighter pilot or even in TAC.  When I got to Bien Hoa, an F-100 staff weenie looked at my records and said that I already had all the decorations I was going to get since I already had a Distinguished Flying Cross from my 172 B-52 missions.  He was right; no A-37 pilot got a Silver Star or above while I was there.  The 604th was now re-designated as an SOS, Special Ops Squadron, and it was treated like the red-headed bastard child that nobody wanted.  But I got a break.  The variety of pilots in the unit allowed me to progress to instructor pilot; something no real fighter pilot unit would have allowed a bomber pilot to do and I remain intensely proud of my 205 fighter missions.

Cessna built 577 A-37Bs in all.  284 were given to the Vietnamese and only 27 of those made it to U-Tapao Thailand on 30 April 75 when the North Vietnamese overran Saigon.  Most of the rest were given to the USAF Reserve forces except for one squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB AZ and a few assigned to Edwards AFB, CA.  These were used to chase the A-10 during its test program and also at Test Pilot School where they were used as an introduction to spin training.  I was delighted to get back into the cockpit as instructor and chase pilot there!  Today there are a few privately owned A-37s still flying, both here and in Australia, but most of them were given away to South and Central American countries, plus Korea and Thailand.  Most of these are now exhibits on poles at museums.

The Dragonfly never received much credit from the Air Force.  The staff was trying to move forward with technology, not backward.  But the Army, the people on the ground, well remember the A-37s answering the call with devastating close air support.  It was an extremely successful program, and led directly to the development of the A-10.

The A-10 filled the Army’s need for Close Air Support.  It carried 16,000 pounds of ordnance on 11 hard points and had a 30 mm Gatling gun cannon that would put a hole in a tank.  This was a manly load!  But the AF staff still did not care for the CAS mission and only bought it to stop the Russian tanks in the Fulda Gap in Europe.  The F-35 is not slated for that mission; it is really a replacement Wild Weasel, a ground to air battery killer designed to work with the F-22 in the integrated battlefield of the future.  Personally, I have doubts that using a $100 million dollar aircraft for that role will prove cost effective.  In reality, there is no updated CAS aircraft coming, but just last week the GAO delivered a scathing report to the AF that will keep the A-10 for the foreseeable future.

Our A-37 motto was: “The smallest fighter, the fastest gun!”  It was certainly the little airplane that could.  Personally, I feel very fortunate to have escaped SAC and gotten to fly the bird in combat!  It has been said that a man will have no love like his first fighter aircraft, and while maybe I can’t go that far, I certainly understand the feeling.

So I have given you the brief history of the A-37.  Created from spare parts and bone yard aircraft in the middle of a war, it remains unrecognized for its accomplishments.

Let me digress a moment and say that the division between the Army and the AF over CAS is fundamental and ugly.  The AF believes its mission is air superiority and CAS aircraft do not contribute to that.  The beauty of this story is that American ingenuity was able to cover over the problem swiftly and inexpensively.  Personally, I think the way to close that divide is to give the Army some jet fighters.  Unfortunately, the Army declined taking the A-10s in February of 2015 because of the budgetary hole that comes with them.

I’d like to close with a quote from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing mission statement that puts it into perspective for me.  “The mission is an 18 year old with a rifle.  All else is support.”

If you decide you want the book of stories from the A-37 personnel that has been circulating, just send me an email and I will email you the order form.  They are $30 for hardcover and $20 for soft cover.