(F@&;KEN New Guys)
My first day in the Army, I took the oath at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn New York
In Basic Training I could do 30 pushups with Peter Frazzetto on my back.
MY FIRST WEEK
My New York attitude was not welcomed by my southern Drill Sergeant and he let it be known. After a day of harassment I had had enough. I’ll show him I thought! The next morning at formation I went after him to beat him up in front of the entire company to teach him a lesson. This was a no no in the military as I found out although it was this spirit that the army was looking for in a fighting man and it was their job to harness it. As punishment and to break my spirit I spent the rest of the day in my dress uniform saluting the toilets and addressing them by name without moving from that very spot. For the benefit of this exercise each toilet was given a women’s name as I called to them in a particular order. The following day was spent scrubbing these very same ladies after the entire platoon was finished with their morning dump using my very own toothbrush to scrub them out.
Playing ball in New York gave me the advantage when it came to choosing sides. Here we are all bested by a recruit after he yelled fingers and touched the top of the toilet plunger first. We were deciding the order for guard duty. The swatch of missing hair on the right side of my head was the result of a bayonet wound I received when a hand-to-hand combat session got out of control. I received eight stitches.
During this eight week brainwashing humiliating breakdown of the human spirit no one is allowed to leave or have time off. The aim and mentality of the military was to have a complete rebuilding of each man into what they wanted. They figured if they let us out half of us wouldn’t return which was the case in many instances anyway.
To get some time off, being the mental giant that I was, I came up with a plan to have a weekend off for some relaxing fun in town. To execute my plan I needed help but not just any help, I needed the help of someone that knew me well. I heard through letters that another home town boy and close childhood friend was here also going through basic training and now that made three, Peter Frazzettos, Richie DeSantis, and myself. I drafted a letter to myself to be delivered to Richie DeSantis who graduated in the class after me in high school. It was from my parents. The letter explained that both of Richie’s parents were killed in a car crash and I was the only one close enough to him to break the news. The letter also explained that we were cousins which of course was not the case along with everything else. I signed it Love Mom and Dad.
The plan was for Peter and myself to ask to see the Commander on a matter of personal hardship, Peter was to remain outside for backup in case it all went awry and I was to go in and have a face to face and plead my case. The letter was my proof. All went well until he immediately got on the phone and demanded to see Private DeSantis immediately. I waited in the “stand down at ease” position. A few minutes later the door opened and there stood Richie. He was surprised to see me which played right into the plan and when we made eye contact I gave him a wink which signaled him to go along with whatever was about to transpire.
At that point my mind raced as I went over every possible scenario outcome. This was not Mr. Theiben’s office my high school principal in charge of discipline I had the pleasure of visiting on numerous occasions. This was the big leagues. Was I up for the challenge, are my devious techniques worthy of such a feat? What’s the worst that can happen they’ll send me to Vietnam?
My train of thought was immediately broken as the Commander spoke with tears in his eyes, “if there is anything I can do please let me know”…..”your cousin will explain everything”…..”God speed son”…..
He gave orders to his subordinates to give each of us a three day pass to console each other. We went into Columbia South Carolina and reeked havoc for the next three days.
NEXT STOP SOUTHEAST ASIA !!!
Once we entered Southeast Asia airspace we were welcomed by Air Force Phantom fighter jets flying out of Thailand.
Thailand, one of three countries on Malay Peninsula, is centrally located and touches both Cambodia and Laos the other two key players in the Vietnam War. A close ally of the United States Thailand traditionally maintained a policy of nutrality in world affairs. As tentions build in Southeast Asia the Thai government grew increasingly suspicious of Communist intentions and wanted to safeguard their own independence. Eventually Thailand, wanting to be recognized as a force in Indochina, got involved in regional affairs and joined 40 other nations in sending forces or other support to South Vietnam.
In 1964 Thailand sent the Royal Thai Air Force to South Vietnam to assist in maintaining cargo for the South Vietnam Air Force breaking its long standing tradition of neutrality. In February 1966 the Royal Thai Military Assistance Group is established in Saigon and later that year announces that it will send ground forces to aid the new South Vietnamese government.
The Royal Thai Volunteer Regiment, “The Queen’s Cobras”, arrived in South Vietnam in 1967 moving into “Bear Cat” near Ben Hoa outside of Saigon and joined forces with the U.S. 9th Infantry Division. Almost immediately the “Queen’s Cobras” proved themselves to be a fierce quality organized fighting force. Taking the lead in Operation NARASUAN alongside the U.S. 9th Infantry they launched counter offensive attacks on Communist aggresors. The unit was also instramental with infrastructure building schools, roads, and providing medical assistance. In 1968 the Royal Thai Expeditionary Division, “The Black Panthers”, joins the fight and raised the overall stakes to an entire division. This unit consisted of heavy field artilery, armored calvalry, and infantry. By 1969 it boasted 12,000 combat troops strong that were committed to the operation and Thailand was all in.
Strategically Thailand was far more important than a fighting force or to maintain cargo. Eventually Thailand would become America’s most important ally in the region. By wars end the United States built, used, and operated a dozen bases conducting the most fiece air combat assault campaigns in the history of warfare.
Royal Thai Air Force Bases used by U.S. with
additional bases to be built by Allied Forces.
“OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER”
Rolling Thunder bombing campaign was the longest sustsined bombing campaign ever conducted by the United States Air Force and on March 2, 1965 the first bombers took off from Thailand. This fierce relentless campaign lasted almost 4 years as F-105 Thunderchiefs pounded targets north of the 17 parallel. It ended on Ovtober 31, 1968 when President Johnson, in an atempt to encourage peace negotiations, halted the bombing. North Vietnam had lost more than half its bridges, all petroleum facilities, and two thirds of its power generating plants. The number of civilian losses equalled that of all the Americans killed in action as U.S. dropped three quarters of a million tons of bombs mostly on Hanoi. U.S. losses were grave as more than 1,000 aircraft went down and hundreds of servicemen were either killed, missing in action or became prisoners of war. Yet this onslaught is considered not just America’s longest campaign but its biggest failure and proved to be a classic example of air supperiority failure. The attacks were also costly. Not halfway into the campaign 300 planes were already shot down and it was estimated that it cost the U.S. almost $7.00 to inflict $1.00 worth of damage on North Vietnam. By the end of Rollong Thunder it was estimated to cost almost $10.00 to inflict $1.00 worth of damage.
“OPERATION ARC LIGHT”
Arc Light was the name given to U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombing missions from June 18, 1965 to August 15, 1973 over Laos and North Vietnam. These missions took place over 30,000 feet and aided both ground forces during operations and destroying enemy targets usually prior to an offensive. In the early 70’s Nixon used B-52 strikes to bring Hanoi to its knees and eventually to the bargaining table during the Paris Peace Talks. Originally designed to carry nuclear weapons they were modified for the Vietnam War and could carry up to 30 tons of conventional bombs each.
During Arc Light B-52’s carried out 126,615 sorties, (one aircraft one mission), 55% over South Vietnam, 27% over Laos, 12% over Cambodia, and 6% over North Vietnam. Thirty one B-52’s were shot down by enemy fire and 13 were lost because of malfunctions or operational mishaps.
B-52’s earned their reputation as the “Flying Fortress” but were later called upon for other rolls. Eventually used as air support for ground troops they could pinpoint targets and take out enemy positions from high altitudes. Roaming the night skies over South Vietnam they were a welcome addition to the arsenal of the foot soldier.
B-52 Stratofortress arsenal which was later upgraded. (flying fortress)
B-52 Rocket Attack
B-52 Bombing Mission (carpet bombing-nothing survives)
Craters pock mark the landscape from a bombing mission.
Everyone was a first responder in Hanoi. Here helmeted civilians tend to the bombing victims, many times they were elderly or children.
Entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble.
One of many U. S. aircraft shot down north of the 17 Parallel.
North Vietnamese civilians rummage through a downed U.S. aircraft.
Rollong Thunder and Arc Light were only one of a dozen air campaigns the U. S. Air Force would initiate. Daily sorties, (one plane one mission), were a 24/7 operation supplying aerial assistance to ground forces in need. The skies over Southeast Asia were dominated by Allied forces with little to no resistance . Eighty percent of all sorties, (one plane one mission), originated in Thailand making it America’s most important ally in the region.
Setting up for a night ambush the six of us fan out to check for booby traps. Anytime you can safely put down a 60 caliber machine gun its a welcomed rest. The 60, a two man gun, is one of the most dependable weapons ever built. It will fire so long and shoot so much you can actually melt the barrel.
A balmy overcast night in Vietnam simply means total darkness. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way but this was not the case, at least not yet. Out on a night patrol and ambush we dug in for the night setting up a perimeter and guard duty assignments. Only a handful of us were out so there was not much organizing to do. Suddenly all hell broke loose as we took incoming rounds and began returning fire. Secure in our positions we held our ground but compromised our position. The darkness made it easy to see their location as we followed the incoming rounds. Locating their position they began fanning out around us making it harder for us to negotiate.
Tom, the radio operator (RTO), calls Headquarters and establishes our location. Any communication has to be cleared using pass codes so the enemy won’t intercept. Each day of the year has a set of codes which can be altered by changing the key. As in sporting events the same signal means different things with different keys. Tom, the control freak as he is fondly referred to, was a natural at the game of codes.
Tom called Headquaters asking for assistance. As he was barking out the codes for the day his radio transmission was interrupted. Out of the darkness came a voice, “shadow sees”, was all it said. Repeating the codes his transmission was interrupted a second time. “shadow knows”, it said again.
Suddenly an area the size of my hometown was lit up as of it were day and we sat back and watched the show. Instinct training and logic for that matter tells you to get down or as low as possible. Like an accident I didn’t want to see it but yet I couldn’t look away and I watched in awe as Shadow, a Flying Fortress, dropped it’s payload. It was reassuring to know big brother was watching over us.
B-52’s and Phantom Jets prowled the night skies over Southeast Asia not just in Vietnam but Cambodia and Laos as well. Without help from Thailand the USAF would need one hundred percent of it’s sorties to fly in from Quam that was a considerable distance away costing both time and money.
Welcome FNG’S !