More Noel

Thanks so much for your August article and update on Chris Noel. It’s nice to know she is doing well. All those who traveled with the USO shows deserve our appreciation and respect, but none more than Chris Noel. She did indeed travel to places that otherwise never got to see a USO show. The love and caring that she put into her performances was obvious. I still cherish the pictures I have of her on our little makeshift stage, performing by herself, caring enough to go that extra distance to bring some joy to a few hundred Marines. Obviously she has never stopped caring. She was then and always will be the friend and the sweetheart of all Vietnam veterans.

Rick Boardman

Northumberland, Pa.

No Tunnels at Thon Tham Khe

It was with great interest that I read Bradford Wineman’s article on Operation Badger Tooth (“Ambush at Thon Tham Khe,” August). I was the communications officer for BLT 3-1 during the operation. With the exception of some minor discrepancies, it is an excellent account.

I must weigh in on one of the many controversies of the battle. I disagree with the assertion in after action reports that there were elaborate defensive positions with connecting tunnels. During the week after the battle, we camped in Thom Tham Khe with little to do but lick our wounds and await orders. I spent my time thoroughly combing the village looking for weapons caches and enemy bodies, anything that might mitigate the sacrifices of our valiant Marines. I found trenches, spider holes and hastily constructed, unreinforced bunkers. However, I can say unequivocally that there were no tunnels. In addition, the photo on page 35 shows a family bomb shelter, not a bunker as stated in the caption. This is not to say that the defenses were not formidable. Thon Tham Khe was surrounded on its landward boundaries with a high sand berm. The berm was permeated with fighting positions offering outstanding fields of fire. That, combined with surprise, gave the defenders a huge advantage. However, to compare these defensive positions with the fortifications built by the Japanese in World War II is absurd.

Colonel J. Stephen Becker (ret.)

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve

Maineville, Ohio

Another Pinkville Derivation

Most recently (Letters, August), much has been written about the events surrounding My Lai and its attendant village, hamlets and sub-hamlets. Many comments have been made as to its moniker of “Pinkville,” apparently derived from the “reddish-pink” area denoted on 1:50,000 maps. It should be noted, however, that this derivation from the color on maps would be the name given to it by officers. At least in the Americal division, there were few maps available to anyone but officers; each company had no more than two officers, and most commonly just one.

Those who saw the area of My Lai from the air called it “Pinkville” for another reason. Its buildings, built in the French colonial style, had pink tile roofs. These pink tiles were completely unique to the area. When the troops saw this aerial landmark, therefore, they generally knew where they were, since “Pinkville” was located right in the middle of the north-south axis for the 11th Light Infantry Battalion’s tactical area of responsibility.

Charles H. Davis II

Company Commander, A/1-20,

11th L.I.B., Americal

Boston, Mass.

The Insights of Douglas Pike

Larry Engelman’s “Douglas Pike: On the Tragedy of Our Times” (October) was without a doubt the best article I’ve seen in explaining the inexplicable events that occurred.

Ed Gromek

1st Air Cav. Div., 1969-70

Ortonville, Mich.

I agree with your assessment of Douglas Pike as being one of the leading authorities on Vietnam and the Communist forces of that country. However, I disagree with his labeling the war as simply an ”intellectual tragedy” when the end result was in costs of “human tragedy.”

What makes this tragedy even worse is a declassified CIA document titled “VN Outcome,” which was prepared for President Lyndon Johnson in September 1967. In it the CIA is answering LBJ’s question: How to get out of a war which we have known for years that we were ill-suited to fight and a war we can never win? (The document is on, at 2970028/Vnoutcome.)

I went to Nam in 1968 as a corpsman with the Marines to help win the war, and was wounded during Operation Allenbrook. This document seems to state that they knew before Tet that the Vietnam War was already lost (at least in the minds of the politicians who were running the war) and the domino theory was pure propaganda; and that they were more concerned about saving face and prolonging the war than they were about saving American lives and cutting out of the war much earlier. Read it yourselves, and form your own opinion.

John “Doc” Baker

Lakewood, Calif.

French Doctor’s Sacrifice

The August issue ends with the statistic that just 1 out of 6,000 American nurses was killed in combat. That nurse, Army 1st Lt. Sharon Ann Lane, is one of many stories to come out of the ranks of medical personnel during the Vietnam War. I collect letters and diaries, and my collection includes letters from the French Reverend Paul Seitz, Bishop of Kontum. Reverend Seitz led missionary work in the Kontum region, where he ministered to the health and welfare of the Montagnard people. Seitz recruited European doctors and nurses who willingly put themselves at risk, as those villages in the highland region were vulnerable to attack. In 1969 French doctor Christiane Granger was killed by a landmine while she traveled by jeep to Dak To. The death of Dr. Granger is just one episode in the broader story of Paul Seitz’s missionary work in Vietnam. For now, let history file the name of Dr. Christiane Granger next to the name of Nurse Sharon Ann Lane.

Marc Smilen

Dania, Fla.

More than Fun at Vung Tau

I just read the article “Vung Tau Then and Now” (October). During my tour in 1965- 66, I was stationed at the Army airfield just outside of Vung Tau. I was with the 61st Aviation Co. (fixed-wing transport, Caribou), which was one of several C-7A Caribou units at Vung Tau. These great flying machines were the workhorses of Army aviation during that period. We would fly up to Saigon early each morning to get our orders and pick up supplies and troops for the day. We were then dispatched out to the hinterlands of South Vietnam for 8 to 10 hours, delivering our loads to places that most of us didn’t know existed until we spotted a little red dirt strip cut out of the beautiful green jungle below us. Talk about seeing happy faces when we were able to land and unload our goodies to those poor bastards who had to stay out there for months at a time!

So, Vung Tau was not only a great place to spend your in-country R&R, but also a great place to be stationed and to come back to each evening. (Yes, there were even some who wouldn’t leave for fear of being replaced permanently while they were on R&R.) There was actually a lot of work taking place in Vung Tau to make sure “Mr. Charles” didn’t sleep all that well—even while he was right there on his R&R.

Conrad Rapp

Spc. 5, 61st Aviation Co.

Irvine, Calif.

I was one of the lucky few to have served in Vung Tau. The beaches were gorgeous, entertainment seemed endless and the women were beautiful. I can remember writing home to my mother and telling her not to worry, that the VC took their R&R here in Vung Tau and all was well!

There was another side of Vung Tau when the sun went down. Like any other city, the hookers, hustlers, leeches and drunks cruised the streets. The clubs belonged to the Aussies and Americans from different units. Fights were as common as drug deals and hookers hustling their prey. Considering that I grew up in Detroit, it felt a lot like home.

I met my Vietnamese girlfriend at the USO and rented a place, paying $20 for the whole year.

My military occupation specialty was in computers, so I was assigned to a supply company where I worked second shift, leaving plenty of time for the night life. But all good things come to an end—and mine ended after only six weeks. The 9th division moved back to the United States, and all those with more than six months left to serve in country were sent to different units. I was sent to Hue.

Upon my arrival, there was a firefight going on at the edge of the airport. To make things worse, the company commander informed me that they had no computers, “but I do have a Prick 10 [an AN/PRC-10 field radio] I’m sure you can learn to operate!”

Tom Doherty

Reno, Nev.

Finding Closure on the Cover

I received a copy of the December 2007 issue of Vietnam from a friend who realized that my father, Richard Dean Wells, was pictured on the cover. I went out and bought as many issues as I could find. At the time, my father was severely ill with his third brain tumor. Unfortunately, he passed away in February 2008; but seeing this magazine helped him to open up to my sister and me about his times in Vietnam.

Jason Dean Wells

Collinsville, Okla.

Realities of Korean Marines

James Durand’s article, “Korea’s Myth-Making Marines” (October), is an excellent overview of the ROK 2nd Marine (Dragon) Brigade’s operations in Vietnam. As with most myths, however, the realities of the times in which they were created and the facts as seen by those who were there can cast light on a different side of the story.

First, Korean President Park Chung Hee’s deployment of Army and Marine forces to Vietnam was not totally altruistic. When LBJ sought to “Asianize” the war, he found out that his jawboning Texan style of negotiation was no match for the wily Asian mind. Korea’s involvement came at a heavy price. America was to pay for the salaries of the Korean soldiers and marines who deployed in Vietnam, and in addition to substantially upgrade Korea’s armed forces, most of which never left the Korean peninsula.

Second, the introduction of Korean forces came with an expectation of “Asian understanding Asian.” But the reality was that the authoritative Koreans had little tolerance or empathy for the Vietnamese, and a typical response to something like sniper fire near a hamlet could bring about the hamlet’s wholesale destruction.

Third was the haphazard means of controlling an area, with no regard to winning hearts and minds or properly passing off responsibilities to other forces. Of this I have personal experience. Durand mentions that the brigade moved into the Chu Lai tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) (southern I Corps) in August-September 1967. From Chu Lai down to Quang Ngai, a distance of 17 miles, the Korean marine brigade established 13 small firebases east and west of Highway 1, surrounding each with a heavily laced mine field. When the 198th Light Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division took over the Chu Lai TAOR, the Koreans moved north, the last of them pulling up stakes in late January 1968. All the mine fields were left in place, with no maps turned over to the brigade or division that might have marked their locations.

My battalion, the 5-46th (I was an infantry platoon leader), ultimately became responsible for the area vacated by the Koreans. The mines they left were unknown to us, but their locations were certainly known by the Viet Cong. For the next two years our soldiers operated in what became the most heavily mined area of Vietnam.

From March 1968, when the battalion became operational, to June 1969, the battalion suffered more than 70 deaths and hundreds of amputations and wounds just from mines.

Korean military involvement in Vietnam came at a heavy price, in American dollars and in American lives from mines. History will judge whether it was worth the price.

David W. Taylor

Colonel, Special Forces (ret.)

U.S. Army Reserve

Medina, Ohio

Hanoi Hilton’s Tran Duyet: War Criminal

As I read the article “A Most Unlikely McCain Supporter” (News, October), I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. Tran Duyet is a liar, and it’s about time we Vietnam veterans expose this jerk for what he really is. John McCain was tortured, starved, beaten and denied medical attention, as were a lot of other POWs. We need to bring Tran Duyet and all the other jailers to trial at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Until this is done, we should not allow any trade relations with Vietnam.

Jim Gales

Glendale, Wis.


Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.