Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sergeant Hanaway – Vietnam 1962-1963

Thomas Hanaway was an Irish Catholic lad who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. At 19 he decided he wanted to see the world, so in 1960 he joined the Army for a three year tour of duty. Tom attended basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, followed by five months of electronics at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Next stop was Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and jump school with the 101st Airborne Division. President Kennedy had just expanded the Army’s Special Forces to deal with the growing situation in Vietnam and Tom wanted to participate. Now he had a budding career in aviation electronics, and was looking forward to serving with the 101st.

One of his jumps resulted in a severe knee sprain. After he got the cast off he was given a brief furlough to go home and visit his folks. Upon return to his outfit he was disappointed to learn the Army was over staffed with electronic technicians so he was given the choice of becoming a radio operator, a demolitions expert, or a medic.  Tom chose medical training because it was interesting and more useful. He spent the next nineteen months at Fort Bragg, North Carolina before shipping out for Vietnam.

Camp Chau Lang: 
Special Forces originated during World War Two. Their job was to infiltrate behind enemy lines, gather information, organize opposition, and waste bad guys. This carried over through Korea and into Vietnam. Early on in VC Land, before the heavy fighting began, part of our Special Forces were sent there to assist the population and win their confidence. As a medic, that was Thomas Hanaway’s assignment.

“My enlistment was going to run out a month before my Vietnam tour ended, so I extended my enlistment to go to Vietnam with my buddies. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. The lasting memories from that experience are a real treasure. I’m sure that never shooting at another human being and never being shot at contribute to my having such good memories of that time. The medical work we got to do over there treating the natives has also left wonderful memories.” 

Chau Lang was 10 miles from the Cambodian border, 25 miles NE from the Gulf of Thailand, and about 80 miles SE of Saigon. This was the An Giang Province of South Vietnam in the region of the Seven Mountains. During the early stages of the war there was a truce there between the local tribesmen and the Vietcong.

In 1962 the Cambodians constructed a camp for the Americans at Chau Lang. Tom and Fred Paulson set up shop that October working together as a team with ten other Special Forces medics. The villagers had never received medical assistance from the Diem Government.

Fred and Tom held sick call almost every day. Their patients walked over from Cambodia, and the surrounding Mekong Delta. The medics also made rounds to the villages. It was a rewarding six months in the lives of twelve great Americans. Tom Hanaway is a practicing psychologist today in Knoxville, Tennessee. Fred Paulsen established a fishing boat repair business in Petersburg, Alaska. He sold his repair business ten years ago. 

Tom Hanaway (right) Chau Lang.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jimmy Tiller -- Erwin Rommel & Kasserine Pass

I met Jimmy Tiller six weeks ago when I went to visit him at River Oaks Place in Lenoir City, Tennessee. River Oaks is a rest home. Jimmy’s real estate listing had just expired on his lake house so I asked him to give me the opportunity to sell his place. I’m a real estate broker. We talked back and forth for a week, and he agreed. Jimmy told me he was in World War Two. I mentioned that I have a military blog and I would like to include him. He said okay.

Yesterday I called to tell Jimmy I have an offer on his lake property. I called three times. Finally I called the front desk asking where he was. The lady on the phone told me I would have to talk with his sister. She couldn’t give out information. I asked her to contact the sister for me. An hour later Barbara called, Jimmy died two days ago.

I liked Sergeant Tiller. This is my tribute to my veteran friend.

October 23 – 11 November 1942:  Bernard Montgomery defeated Erwin Rommel at the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt. Montgomery was portrayed in the press as a great general. That’s not true. Montgomery was a cut above average. Erwin Rommel, the notorious “Desert Fox”, was the great German general.
Montgomery had twice as many tanks with 200 more in reserve, half again as much field artillery, twice the armored cars, three times the anti-tank guns, fighter aircraft were about equal, and 195,000 Allied personnel versus 116,000 troops comprised of Rommel’s Italian and German forces. Rommel was short on fuel, ammunition, and just about everything else. Still, it took the plodding Montgomery two and a half weeks of constant fighting to break through Rommel’s defenses.

Rommel had lost 500 tanks, 1,000 guns, and 75,000 men, killed or captured.

Rommel retreated west out of Egypt across the Libya desert into Tunisia where he dug in behind the Mareth Line, a defensive fortification built by Vichy French forces. After receiving re-enforcements from Sicily, Rommel regrouped setting his sights on Tunis, Tunisia’s capitol and a key strategic goal for both the Axis and Allied forces. General Rommel determined the weakest point in the Allied lines was at the Kasserine Pass, a two mile wide gap between Tunisia’s Dorsal Mountains defended by green American soldiers.

Fighting around the Pass began in December when the German general in Tunisia, Jurgen von Arnim, launched an attack to link up with Rommel’s retreating forces withdrawing through Libya.
Allied command was a confusing hierarchy of British, French, and American generals. General Lloyd Fredendall commanded this convoluted army 70 miles behind the lines in a fortified concrete bunker. Erwin Rommel was out front directing his Panzer IVs and 88 mm Tiger tanks the whole time. The Allies suffered a major defeat at Kasserine due to lousy command decisions, and stupid rules of engagement.

Rommel lost 2,000 men. The Allies lost 10,000, 6,500 of them Americans killed or captured. American artillery slowed Rommel’s advance toward Tunis, so his assault force turned back to face Montgomery advancing on his flank. That was Rommel’s last victory in North Africa. General Eisenhower sacked the incompetent Fredendall, replacing him with General George S Patton. The fortunes of war changed with Patton in the forward echelons.

Jimmy’s battalion was in the middle of the fighting trying to stop the Afrika Korps. They were overrun and many of them captured. Jimmy said the most difficult part of being a prisoner was lack of food. He explained although the guards didn’t mistreat the prisoners, there was never enough to eat.

“They didn’t keep it from us.” he told me.  “They didn’t have anything to eat either.”

Jimmy died before we could talk further about North Africa or Korea and Vietnam. He did tell me he served in Korea with the Army, and later on in Vietnam. He retired after 30 years as a sergeant major.
He was a brave soldier, and a patriotic soul.

I asked him earlier what it felt like facing Rommel’s panzer tanks.

“We knew they were coming because you could see dust rising over the hill. Then we heard that awful squeaking their tracks made.  It was scary. I thought we were goners. Our guns had very little effect on the big Tiger tanks. Then they overran my position.”

I made reference to the people we have running our country today. Jimmy shook his head.

“Disgraceful,” he said. “Disgraceful bunch of incompetents.”

Good Friday 2013
I attended Jimmy’s wake tonight. He looked peaceful lying there in his summer suit. It was raining. The rain reminded me of what they taught us recruits at Parris Island in 1957, night and rain are the soldier’s friends.

Jimmy Tiller is out there somewhere in the dark standing guard over our Republic.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chris Georgehead * Mortar Battery 1/13 * Vietnam 1966-1967

(A guest blogger today...)

May, 1966, I reported to First Battalion, Thirteenth Marines, at Camp Pendleton, California. I was a First Lieutenant artillery officer. There I was assigned to the Battalion’s 4.2 inch, 107 mm, Mortar Battery as their Executive Officer. We trained all summer as a unit for deployment to Vietnam that September.

We sailed across the Pacific with Infantry Battalion 3/26, and moved into our first position at Cam Lo, a village a few miles south of the DMZ. We were trained as helicopter assault troops, but while I was with the Battery we were employed in static positions.

At Cam Lo, like subsequent positions, we were usually deployed with a rifle company. They provided us security, while we gave them fire support as they patrolled and engaged the NVA.

We also kept the enemy at bay with harassing and interdicting fire, and any targets of opportunity that became available. They fired back at us with rockets and artillery. We had the advantage of firepower, including air support. They had the advantage of knowing exactly where we were. Later on we moved to the Balong Valley located west of Cam Lo.
1966, XO of Mortar Battery, 1st BN. 13th Marines.

May of 1967 we deployed to Khe Sanh. I was now the Battery Commander. My First Sergeant referred to me as “The Boy Captain.” I was 24 years old. It was the best job I ever had. At Khe Sanh I took three mortars and their fire direction operators to Hill 881 South, and my XO took three tubes to Hill 861. We had a rifle company for security on each hill. With the mortars split we could mutually support each hill with indirect fire.

Prior to deploying to the hills, we set up our Battery near the Khe Sanh airstrip. From a distance of 200 yards we saw General Westmorland fly in, deplane for a few moments and talk to our Base Commander, Col. Padley, CO of the 26th Marines. He then re-boarded and flew away.

Later that afternoon, at the daily meeting of unit commanders, Colonel Padley filled us in on what the General said. He stated that Westmorland asked one question, “Do you have an air raid siren?” The Colonel said he wasn’t aware that we had one. Westmorland said, as he turned to re-board his plane, “Well, you better get one.” The Colonel was as dumb-founded as the rest of us with that comment.

All good things come to an end, and in mid-June I received orders for reassignment to Third Division Headquarters, G-2 Section, as the Division Targeting Officer. I went by helicopter from Hill 881 to the Khe Sanh Base, then by air to Division Headquarters at Phu Bai.

Three Months as Targeting Officer at 3rd Division Headquarters 1967

Phu Bai was a different world from Cam Lo, the Balong Valley, and Khe Sanh. The base had streets, wooden huts, electricity, and running water. Mess halls served hot chow. There was an Officers Club, laundry, PX, and an evening outdoor movie.

In the field we sometimes existed for weeks on C-Rations, no showers, no change of clothing, and we had to crap in a hole or an empty 55 gallon drum, which we periodically burned out with diesel fuel. Our worst fear was a sniper would get you sitting on the 55 gallon drum. For that reason, we tried to hold it until nighttime.

The Targeting Section was staffed by three Marines; myself, the Intelligence Chief who was an E-3 but should have been an E-6, and a PFC clerk. Our office was a hut approximately 10 x 20 feet. On one wall was a topographical map of Northern I Corps, about 5 feet high and 7 feet wide. It had a plastic overlay which we could mark with a grease pencil, all current and potential targets within the Division’s area of operations. Target markings were constantly changing as new targets were added and others dropped.

Targets and their locations came from communications with infantry battalions, artillery spotters, Marine Air, ARVN Intelligence, POW interrogation, electronic surveillance, and CIA “spooks.” In coordination with the G-3 Section ( Operations ), we could propose an attack on targets with tactical air, H&I artillery, naval bombardment, Army 175 mm at Calu, or the big one which was our B-52 “Arc Light” bombers.

Arc Lights were flown out of Guam, consisting of multiple aircraft. There was usually at least one strike a day, flown against selected targets in South Vietnam. MACV Headquarters made the final target selection. Our understanding was that General Westmorland liked to do that personally.

At that time, because of NVA infiltration across the DMZ, MACV placed high priority on Northern I Corps. We supposedly got 50% of all Arc Light strikes. My job was to provide Division G-2 with the targets, and supporting intelligence. From there it rode up the chain of command to MACV.

Sometimes we would have maybe three targets that appeared to be equal. My orders were to recommend just one. In those cases we would use the unofficial selection method. That consisted of standing back about 10 feet, and throwing a dart at the wall map. The target closest to where the dart landed was it. We would write up the target intelligence, much embellished, and hand-carry it to G-2.

I often wondered if General Westmorland or the B-52 pilots had any idea how some of their targets were selected for destruction by America’s three target selection experts.

“Lance Corporal, it’s your turn to throw the dart!”

In October my tour was finished, and I returned to the States. My obligation to the USMC was completed at the same time. I went home to my wife and daughter and became a civilian again.

Reflecting on my Vietnam Service 1966-1967

1. I am extremely proud of my service, but even more so of the men with whom I served.

2. Like most Marines, I was no hero but did my job to the best of my ability.

3. The NVA were outstanding. Our civilian leadership was stupid and arrogant to underestimate them.

4. We had too many people in the rear. REMFs and not enough combat battalions. Rear areas were like stateside duty.

5. Lieutenant General Krulak, “the Brute,” got it right. More Marine platoons, merged with local ARVN units to protect the rural areas and villages, particularly at night. That should have been our first priority.

6. We made the mistake of trying to fight the Vietnam War like the Korean War. Our tactics, heavy equipment, and organization were well suited for Korea and WW2. Unfortunately for us, the NVA was quick, agile, and not static.

7. At the end of my tour of duty, I opted to return to civilian life. I felt that I had served my obligation as a “citizen soldier.” I did not suffer PTSD. I was now focused on earning a living and raising my family, along with my good wife now of 48 years.

8. I have deep feelings for the veterans and their sacrifices. For each of the past six years I have sponsored an Honor Flight of World War II Veterans, from Louisville, KY to Washington, DC.

9. Whatever business success I had in life, I owe the majority of credit to my training and experience in the USMC.

10. I was president of a printing company for 22 years. At my retirement, we had 280 employees, with annual sales of almost $40,000,000. But the greatest responsibility and prestige that I ever had was as a young Marine Battery Commander of 100 men, in combat. Nothing else ever came close.

Tony Poe * United States Marines & Central Intelligence Agency

This is the story of a man who fought for Uncle Sam in WW2, Korea, and again during the Vietnam War. The Pentagon was top heavy with leftover brass during Vietnam, and Congress was top heavy with the same gutless “leadership” we see today. They underestimated their Hanoi opponents, assuming the same military and political postures as they did with Korea. Korea was a loser so Tony improvised some “unusual” tactics for Indo China. I admire Tony Poe because he wasn’t afraid to risk his life for his convictions and for his country. How many politicians do we have today who would risk anything for America?
Anthony Poshepny, “Tony Poe,” was a kick-ass individual, and an American patriot.  He was born in Long Beach, California, September 18, 1924. At the age of eighteen he dropped out of high school and joined the Marine Corps.

He served with the Para-Marines in the Southwest Pacific until his unit was broken up, and he was assigned to the 5th Marine Division. Tony and his buddies landed on Iwo Jima in February, 1945 where he was the leader of a machine gun section. The Japs were underground in concrete bunkers. Iwo Jima was hell on wheels. Fifteen days later he was shot through the calf. He recovered in time to serve in Japan as part of MacArthur’s occupational force.

After the war he entered St. Mary’s College in San Francisco. Later on he transferred to San Jose State where he graduated in 1950 with a degree in History and English. He planned on joining the FBI, but was recruited by the CIA. The CIA sent him to Korea where he worked with the North Korean Chondogyo. These were animist-Christians who believe that all things possess souls, animals, trees, insects, and humans. They worked behind the lines where they fought the North Koreans and the Chinese.

Tony was sent to Thailand in 1952 as a paramilitary case officer. He worked with Walt Kuzmak who ran the CIA’s cover company, Sea Supply. In 1958 he became involved in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the communist-leaning Sukarno government of Indonesia. Almost captured, he escaped with Pat Landry. They walked 93 miles through the Sumatra jungle, finally being rescued by an American submarine.

From Indonesia, Tony joined a project to train and insert Khamba tribesmen into Tibet. The idea was to save Tibet from the Chinese. The effort failed, but the Dalai Lama did manage to escape the clutches of the Chinese Communists.

In 1961 Tony was part of a CIA effort to train Hmong tribesmen in Laos to fight against the Pathet Lao, and the North Vietnamese Army. He and Vinton Lawrence were the only case officers in Laos in 1962, monitoring the Geneva peace accords between the Soviets, the United States, and Red China. The truce fell apart, and the fighting escalated in 1964. The secret CIA war was underway.

Tony got shot in the stomach at Hong Non in 1965. That same year the US Marines landed at Da Nang. President Johnson launched his micro-managed “police action” based on two naval reports, one factual and one wrong, of a confrontation in the Gulf of Tonkin between the destroyer USS Maddox and three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats. Naval gunfire was exchanged.

In 1966 Ted Shackley was placed in charge of the secret war in Laos. He and his team became involved in the opium trades supporting General Vang Pao, leader of the anti-communist forces in Laos. Tony fell out with Vang Pao, accusing him of using his position with the CIA to enrich himself.

Late in the ‘60s Tony began to weird out. For him, Washington had lost their cojones and the will to win. LBJ never intended to win, he was afraid of Red China. Truman made the same mistake with Korea. But Tony and America’s Allies were never informed. Tony drank heavily, becoming increasingly alienated from everyone except his Hmong tribesmen. He had become the embodiment of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

Now on the sauce big time, he ran a much-feared assassination operation in Laos. He became good friends with Air America, another CIA front. Tony paid the Hmong tribesmen for ears they brought in, sliced off the heads of dead communists. On two separate occasions he dropped decapitated heads into compounds from aircraft flown by CIA pilots. 

In 1970 Tony was transferred to Thailand to train guerrilla soldiers to fight the Vietcong. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975 he retired from the CIA but chose to live in Thailand, returning to California in 1992.

Twice Tony won the CIA Intelligence Star, the agencies highest award from Allen Dulles in 1959, and William Colby in 1975. As a Marine he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. He was married with two daughters at the time of his death from liver failure in 2003.

A Fist Full of Dynamite reminds me of Tony Poe.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gordon Sams * Okinawa * Typhoon of Steel

Gordon Sams was nineteen when he volunteered for the Navy in April of 1943. He completed boot camp and gunnery training at Bainbridge, Maryland. The Navy assigned him to the USS Charger, an escort carrier stationed at Chesapeake Bay. Escort carriers were small aircraft carriers constructed on the hulls of merchant vessels. The Charger was used for training American and British pilots to land on carrier decks. That was nerve-racking duty because about two out of every ten pilots damaged their planes or went into the sea. The flight deck was less than 500 feet long.

USS Chipola in June of 1968. Thanks to NavSource for
providing the image.

His next assignment was the Pacific Fleet. The USS Chipola was an oiler carrying 8,000,000 gallons of high octane gasoline and fuel oil.  Her job was assisting 3rd Fleet commanded by Admiral Halsey, and 5th Fleet commanded by Admiral Spruance.

February, 1945 Gordon was serving as a
gunners’ mate when the Battle of Iwo Jima commenced. Seventy-four days of preliminary bombing and three days of naval bombardment proved inadequate. The Japanese were dug in underground with eleven miles of interconnecting concrete bunkers, some two and three stories deep.  The Japs weren’t on the island. They were in it.
Sams: gunner's mate, second class, off Iwo Jima,
aboard the USS Chipola

The Navy lost almost 400 sailors at Iwo Jima with 500 wounded. No quarter was given by either side during the thirty six days of savage fighting on the black volcanic sand. Marine dead numbered 6,821 and 19,217 wounded. The Japanese suffered 21,500 deaths with 216 taken prisoner.  This is where a Navy Corpsman and five Marines raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi. 

“How we made it through Okinawa was a miracle. It was just pure hell.” Gordon told me.

USS Chipola in 1964.

April 1 – June 22, 1945 saw the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. Gordon was square in the middle of it facing the most terrifying weapon the Japanese had, Kamikaze. Just as frightening, he was sitting on millions of gallons of explosive diesel oil and aviation gasoline. 1,300 allied ships surrounded the island, including 40 aircraft carriers and 18 battleships.

“Day and night they came, smashing into one ship after another.”

Over 2,000 Kamikazes got through to the combined fleet of American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand warships and merchant vessels.  

“Ever body was scared. Man, I prayed. You can’t imagine how terrible it was. Ships were being hit all around us, Jap planes crashing in the water. A tanker a couple of miles from us took a hit. She blew up like an atomic bomb. I don’t think any of them survived. The ocean was on fire.”

Sams aboard the USS Chipola.
Awarded 3 battle stars for:
Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and
Japanese homefront bombardments.
The carnage lasted eighty-two days. Forty-seven US ships were sunk, mostly heavy landing craft and destroyers. 368 ships were damaged. The Army and the Marines lost nearly 8,000 men with more than 38,000 wounded. Navy casualties were just under 5,000 with as many sailors injured.  Over 100,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. It’s estimated that 140,000 Okinawans caught between the two combatants lost their lives.  

Japan lost 16 warships including the mighty battleship Yamato. Imperial Japan sacrificed 7,800 bombers and fighters against the island and surrounding sea battle, 4,600 of them kamikazes. Most were shot down before they reached Okinawa. Uncle Sam lost 763 aircraft. Both opposing generals were killed, General Buckner by enemy artillery fire and General Mitsuru by his own hand. Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent, was killed by a machinegun on the nearby island of Ie Shima.  

Sams across the mote from the Imperial
Palace, Tokyo, December 1945.
“Larry Henry has captured the essence of the experience of millions of ordinary young men accomplishing extraordinary feats during hellish war. As the characters in his books, I shared similar honors as they did, theirs fighting on the ground; mine, as a Navy gunners’ mate at nineteen in WW2, trying to kill other nineteen year olds who were trying to kill me. I served at Iwo Jima and Okinawa where 5,000 sailors died, mostly from kamikaze attacks.”

Gordon Sams watched from the Chipola as General McArthur accepted the Japanese surrender onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Sams was discharged on his 21st birthday. My cousin and dear friend just turned 89.