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Martin Timothy

Vietnam War Diary - Me and Johnny Vann

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John Paul Vann & Staff at Pleiku SVN.
 

Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann was an American patriot who became the highest ranking US civilian in Vietnam .. he was killed in 1972 when the helicopter ferrying him from a visit to a brothel, crashed on the way back to his operational headquarters.


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Courtney.

After military ops in the Courtney Rubber Plantation and adjacent forested areas thru December into January 1970, taking a rest break in Vung Tau the fellow I was with suggested that if we were to really experience the Viet Nam experience we should drink a little beer, smoke a little marijuana and go to a brothel.

We have a smoke and a couple beers then head up town .. after paying pay Mama San two chicks take us with them, in the rooting cubicle I decided that at nineteen years of age I could do a little better, I had heard lurid tales of dreadful diseases and did not want to get one and tell the chick I have changed my mind.

I still have the MJ, she has a smoke with me and gets a couple beers .. movement and noise indicated the cubicle on the opposite side had an occupant, the chick pushes the bed over and looks across she has closed her mouth waves at me to join her, a thin Caucasian male forties was being served civilian clothes neatly stacked.

My girl giggles loudly then ducks her head, the guy having sex face up is an American says "say man who the f--- are you anyway," I say "sorry mate my girlfriend made me do it," he tells his girl "have you ever met a God damn Australian with good manners" .. that was the first time I caused Johnny Vann liver shrinkage.


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The next time was in October 1970 I was a Lance Corporal machine gunner and was asked to attend an Orders Group .. intelligence said a supply train was leaving the village of Long Dien that night, I would be point MG in a twelve man ambush placed to intercept them.

After being delivered by road we made our way across flooded rice fields and took up positions in a cemetery, we had machine groups at two points of a triangular position and a command radio group in rear protection, I would be the machine gunner right front.

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I sighted two banks of Claymore Mines on a paddy bund and could deliver enfiladed fire across an arc of one hundred and twenty degrees, nightfall and the flooded fields became a myriad of lights the villagers were chasing fish and crustaceans with candles and torches, later in the night the fields were deserted and in my gun group I was the only one awake.


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We had been sent some guys who had been shelled by the New Zealand artillery losing two men killed, while on a night exercise just a few hundred meters outside of the wire at Nui Dat July 20 that year .. I let them sleep.

The Australian Government had decided to reduce the commitment to the Vietnam War, and had decreed that when the 8th Battalion rotated home in November that year it would not be replaced, might be this was a going away present in response to the government’s decision, organized by Mr B52 himself, master war criminal John Paul Vann, who was known to be active in the area.

At around eleven o'clock a beautiful Vietnamese girl came along she had a steam cooker of food in one hand and a bag of rice in the other, she had a WW2 Japanese rifle slung across her back and looked like she had stepped straight out of a propaganda poster.

I had met a beautiful girl in Vung Tau and just as I loved her, I knew this beautiful girl was going to meet someone she loved .. standing up and placing my finger in front of my lips that she make no sound, I showed her the correct path and saw her safely away from the militarized area. About midnight bursts of automatic rifle fire sprayed tracer across the rice, I lifted the M60 into position.

Mist had spread across the paddy fields and a group was moving out of the village in the dark and thru the mist finding their way with hand held flashlights, I leveled the machine gun it fires at a cyclic rate of five hundred and sixty rounds per minute, I had twelve hundred rounds in a waterproof rucksack each fifth round tracer kept clean and free of dust.

Navigating across flooded rice paddies is a zigzag type of thing as way is made along bunds and dykes, we were going to intercept them none the less since their way toward the Long Hai Hills met up with our position in the cemetery, a couple of times they lined up with the sights then I had them broadside on as they tracked toward my position.

I could see about seven lights and as they drew closer saw some were down lower and closer to the ground than others, as though the person holding the torch had short legs .. from about fifty meters downrange they got onto a bund that brought them walking in a line directly toward my machine gun, and into the field of fire from both banks of Claymores.

For about twenty meters till they turned onto another bund, their lights dimming in the mist as they zigzagged toward the hills .. the next day there is a hell of a stink, another O Group and some officer says "you must have seen them" I tell him "I saw them alright," he says "well why didn’t you fire," I told him that I much preferred they went their way unmolested.

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They get long faced because it was an operation organized by the Americans, Johnny Vann was in charge of intelligence just there and was said to be right p*ssed off .. read more about John Paul Vann in Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie"   the best book about the Vietnam War.

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I was in Vietnam with the Australian Army from November 1969 until November 1970 as an Infantry Medic with 8th Battalion of the Royal Australian Infantry Regiment, whence I like Adolf Hitler achieved the rank of Lance Corporal, my tactical call sign was Starlight-Grey-Four-Two.

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We arrived in Vietnam Nov. 28, 1969 where after a couple days of lectures we were told to prepare for a cross country jaunt with the Cavalry, we would be heading up country in M113 Armored Personnel Carriers to rendezvous with another armored detachment that had tanks.

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Lance Corporal Normie Rowe an Australian pop music man who sold plenty of records until he was drafted was Commander of the vehicle I was in, he had about ten days hair on his face and had gone to the trouble of lacing his boots from the outside in, he told us he was on "happy pills" which were issued when a soldier had only fourteen days to go in country.

We left the main Australian base at Nui Dat at about three in the afternoon proceeding out of the main gate then turning right on to a macadam road believed to be National Route 2, the view was across about three kilometers of rice fields then densely forested foothills and a jungle covered hill with a couple of summits and saddles, called Nui Dinh from the east, Nui Thi from the west and the Nui Thi Vai’s in operational terms.

Known colloquially in Australian Army slang as "The Warbies" or "Warburton Mountain," a large rocky outcrop visible from the road was said to be used for target practice by artillery units. Going up the road it was great sitting on top of the carriers in the breeze, civilian traffic was a logging truck with a big log hauler and a couple of motor bikes, we left the road after about two K’s then went right thru some undulating bush country then into some farmland.

The driver took out one complete row of trees in someone's coffee grove, Normie looked a bit pained and the driver a tad sheepish .. until we wiped out this guy’s coffee trees we had been more or less well behaved not that we had been there that long. We crashed thru some more bush land and caught up with the tanks and another couple of tracked vehicles called AMC’s, which are M113 carriers minus turret with an 81mm mortar tube inside.

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The cavalry guys were laid back on camp chairs, the coffee pot was on and music was being played, three Centurion tanks were in triangular formation each could fire across a one hundred and twenty degree arc, the AMC’s were positioned between them. We were told to place Claymore mines in front of our positions, then to place our machine gun and rifle groups as per our Infantry training.

By this time it was nearly dark and by the time we had put our minefield out and sighted the guns it was dark .. the Cav said now that we were there they were knocking off, they told us that we did not have to provide a picket on our weaponry and that the 50 Caliber Machine Guns on the Tracks as we called the Cav M113’s, were the only weapons to be manned around the clock.

We asked about the tankies what they were gonna do and were told to keep out of other peoples business, barbecue’s out the bush is what .. they had a barbecue going, I got a crash course in operating a .50 Cal MG from a cavalryman who seemed in on something, we were not allowed to cook up or light up our bush stoves to brew tea or coffee.

Muted laughter, the sfwit sound of ring pull cans and the giveaway smell of the Barbie coming from the Armored Corps camp mingled with the night in the forest, grey and white long tailed monkeys were in the branches of the trees, there were barking lizards and fireflies, at eleven o’clock I manned a .50 Cal atop one of the AMCs for a two hour picket going off at one am, just settling down to get a bit of sleep maybe when all hell broke loose.

One of the tanks fired his 84mm turret gun then for about a full minute tank and machine gun fire poured into the jungle, we did not know what was going on, the cavalry shouted at us to fire our Claymores, we told them we were reluctant to do so since we had not seen any enemy, and after all the fuss we wanted them in case there was a counter attack.

They had a man with a bit of rank with them and he said to fire them so we fired them, then they said get a bit of sleep ..we went off their roster after that, in the morning they said not to do a clearing patrol, because of the danger of unexploded ammo from the night before, we just packed up and left arriving back at the Aussie base in time for breakfast.

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We went out on operations after about nine days in country to a place called the Courtney Rubber Plantation, twenty two K’s north of Nui Dat astride the border of Phoc Tuy and Long Khan Provinces, it had been the scene of numerous Australian battles and fire fights and our time there was to be no different, I was in Eleven Platoon D Company we went into action about six days into the operation.

Bursts of weapons fire, laughter and the sound of digging had betrayed the place where an enemy unit was digging in, building bunkers in the forested area adjacent to the rubber plantation. Taking regular compass sightings on the weapons fire and the digging noise from different directions, one female comrade’s laughter carrying a long way, then we were ordered to meet up with Company HQ and another platoon and proceed to contact.

Approaching the grid reference from where there had been firing, trees had been cut off maybe 300mm up from the ground with a handful of dirt placed on the raw stumps as camouflage .. then you are real close, a burst of automatic fire broke the tension and someone called out for a medic, an engineer with Company HQ had a serious groin wound, he had trodden into the entrance of an enemy bunker and took a full burst of AK 47 fire upward.

The platoon in front of us went thru a contact drill and took two more hits, a machine gun group consisting of the gunner and his offsider both seriously wounded, their medic was using his skills with the two company medics trying to keep the engineer alive. Someone says "have you guys got a medic down there," and Peter Buckney the 11 Platoon Sergeant tells me to attend to their wounded people.

I follow the line up to 10 Platoon their ppl tell me they have men down, enemy fire is coming from numerous points in the jungle .. the Lieutenant from 10 platoon orders no firing unless you have a direct target, this provoked quite a bit of enemy fire and he yells “I told you not to fire” to an MG group from 11 platoon, the gunner yells back “tell him about it he’s firing at me and Mac,” Privates Colgrave and McGarry.

I find Corporal Weatherall from 10 pl beside him is the body of Pte Wooley from Tasmania his head is a mass of blood and mud and stuff like that, just then firing erupts from our front I push Wooley’s body from his position behind a low anthill and he protests, I tell him “sorry mate I thought you were dead.”

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The machine gunner Private Gould was dead his body hung up in the jungle vines hit by now with repeated bursts of enemy fire, I got to work on Pte Wooley, he had a scalp wound that had caused a lot of bleeding an enemy round had creased the top of his head, firing was intermittently coming from the enemy position .. Cpl Weatherall went forward without his weapon to recover Pte Gould’s body, he is a big guy and him crashing thru the bush alerted the defenders,

Firing was from directly in front, I could see the exhaust coming from the enemy soldier’s weapon and fired two short bursts from an AR15 at where I reckoned the firer’s head was, no more firing came from that position. So on and on .. we pulled out of that position after recovering the body then stayed up late and put it on a chopper, another helicopter had arrived earlier on for the wounded the pilot would not take a K, as we pulled out so did they the enemy fire was coming from further away, they were firing back at us as they departed.

Back into the enemy position in the morning which was deserted except for the body of the man I had fired upon, his weapon was splintered and pierced where the automatic rifle fire had struck, Command said Eleven Platoon should stay in situ and be ready and waiting for any enemy who might come along .. the next day a group of enemy did come along, the Australian sentry fired first who departed firing back as they did so like they had the day before, a clearing patrol went out and found nothing.

Throughout the remainder of the day the sound of a man in pain alerted the defenders that a wounded man lay beyond our perimeter, on and into the night his moans excited the pity of one of our ppl who called for a medic to go to his aid, the Lieutenant refused .. early in the following morning the same man came to the Lieutenant and said he would guide the medic to the wounded man’s location that he had pinpointed thru the night.

I was the medic I grabbed my medical supplies and hurried to the same soldier and proceeded in the direction where the injured man lay, it was then a decision was made he was to be shot, I told them I was gonna fix this man and see to it that he was properly repatriated to hospital care, telling them I joined the Army to be a soldier not a f*****' murderer and like it or f*****' not I was going to bring aid to this man.

The Sergeant had been grinning from ear to ear, chewing gum elated at this opportunity to kill an injured man, he made a motion toward his weapon as my attitude became insubordinate expecting that he would fire upon me if my aggressive attitude persisted, thus I stood mute while a group under one of the Corporals went forth and murdered him.

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The soldier who fired the fatal shots was killed with another of our ppl in the early morning of May 1, 1970, when the machine gunner in situ fired upon both men without warning during operations, I attended both injured men and the same Lieutenant after he was wounded in battle on Feb. 18, 1970.

At about 11 pm on the night of Feb. 17, 1970 while D Company was in situ at Nui Dat between operations we were woken and ordered to get into our combat gear including helmets and flack jackets, while a troop of M113 Armored Personal Carriers were to take us to the Dinh Co Monastery at the foot of the Long Hai Hills, where a platoon from B Company that had engaged a group of enemy were under seige.

The enemy group they had fired upon were a forward party from a much larger force .. we arrived in situ before daybreak and took up positions between the salt marsh and the hills near Firebase Isa, which guarded the south eastern access to the Firestone Trail named after the Firestone Tire Company's failed attempt to establish a rubber plantation in the area which went by the monastery and onward to well established enemy positions in the hills.

The enemy abandoned the siege and dispersed when they smelled the diesel fumes from the 113's, and heard the engines of the Centurion tanks that sped to the scene, another company from 8 Battalion similarly mounted in tracks had located itself at the north western approach between the hills and the sea, another company of mounted infantry closed the road between the hill country and the Long Dien rice fields.

Which meant a large force of enemy was at large in the sandy scrub country with nowhere to go, since the line at Dinh Co had held while the mounds of enemy bodies there attested to their desperate attempts to get back to the hills.

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We started moving about 7:30 am in line abreast with tanks, enemy RPG fire and satchel charges took two M113's out of the line as we advanced across the formidable minefield that surrounded the enemy positions. Then forming up in line abreast one of our Sergeants who was a mine clearance expert who had deemed an area safe, was guiding down a helicopter that had arrived to retrieve Trooper Carlyle's body and to convey the wounded to hospital.

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He stepped onto a mine and was killed instantly the APC with the dead and wounded went over and dropped its ramp to retrieve his body, at this time a series of explosions coming from an entirely unexpected quarter rocked the battlefield, a helicopter was sent to investigate whence the pilot reported a group of enemy had stumbled onto their own mines in what appeared to be an attempt to escape to the hills, he reported seeing about eight dead with their weapons scattered all about.

No attempt was made to recover the weapons or to land for fear of mine .. the cut and thrust had been going on since about 11:00 the previous night and the tracks needed to be refueled, so we went the twenty or so clicks back to Nui Dat at high speed dropping the dead off at the morgue and the wounded at the hospital, we were not allowed to leave the vehicles and as soon as they were refueled we sped back and took our position in the line while the next group went in, until everyone was fuelled and ammo'd up.

Since there had been a considerable amount of firing thru the night continuing thru into the morning, about midday everyone was right to go a couple of celebrities had turned up one was combat cameraman Neil Davis who was a "war junkie" from Tasmania, he was up on the back of an APC a couple of our officers walked over and spoke to him never mind we were in a minefield, he was polite at first then distant and aloof, then came the order to move and we advanced up the Firestone trail.

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Straight away there was firing and rocket grenades from the enemy positions, while hot spent shells rained down inside the vehicle as the crew commander responded with his twin thirty caliber machine guns. There was an enormous explosion and the interior of the vehicle I was in filled with dust, even as an M16 Jumping Jack mine of the type which which caused over 57 per cent of Australian casualties in Vietnam exploded beneath the tracks.

After about a kilometer the commander dropped his ramp, whence we were to get out and proceed on foot with the tanks, the carriers were to continue at high speed until they linked with the mounted company at the north western end of the redoubt, the vehicle I had been in was blown up whence the crew commander was killed .. proceeding then on foot along where the tank treads had marked the ground.

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Some of the tanks they brought in were Centurions with a bulldozer blade called L5's which simply graded a road as they went and bulldozed the enemy out of their bunkers, bodies rolling along with the dirt and stuff.

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To my right a Viet Cong officer and an enlisted man were peering thru a weapons slit at ground level I, leveled my L2A1 7.62 mm automatic rifle then held fire as a fella from A Company stepped straight into the line of fire .. continuing on another troop of M113 carriers arrived and we were told to get in.

Tthey took us further on and dropped us at the foot of one of the foothills leading up to the main range, whence we were to obtain the summit and dig in to prevent any enemy that might bug out from the camp reaching the spur. We proceeded under sporadic enemy rifle fire gaining the summit and securing the area by placing rifle and machine gun groups at various positions.

The Lieutenant said we should cool off a bit and since most of us had not had anything to eat since the day before we should make a cuppa .. I thought that was a good idea and shucked my gear off and got my bush stove going to brew tea, I heard Vietnamese voices - the radio op was with the Boss and the Sergeant having a confab about it all.

We were on the rocky summit of a small hill overlooking the Firestone valley everywhere was overgrown with bamboo, taking a look I decided to take a better look and moved around the other side of a massive boulder, and found I was looking straight down at a hidden path that went the full length of the spur, the way was well traveled and just a little further up the flared snout of a 20 mm anti aircraft gun was poking thru the bamboo!

I needed hand grenades there were two in the webbing I had taken off back where my tea water was bubbling merrily away about four meters around the other side of the boulders, that was when the sh*t hit the fan so to speak .. the plan re the enemy decamping from the bunkers where the tanks had plowed thru had been proven correct.

However some infantry mounted the 113's that had closed in from the north west had spotted them and were chasing them thru the scrub and up our hill, whence the infantry and cavalry gunners were pouring devastating fire after them, the Lt. was on the radio screaming that we were under fire and in danger of being over run, when a MG slug caught him liketty split between the shoulder blades.

He was a naturally swarthy individual and he turned a seasick shade of green, I removed his shirt and saw frothy blood bubbling thru a wound about thirty mm across that the tissue beneath had almost closed, that is a "sucking chest wound", I placed the palm of my hand flat over the wound and was relieved when he took a clear breath in and his color improved dramatically.

We were still under fire and I dragged him into a large bomb crater that was there, removing the waterproof outer cover of a shell dressing with one hand and my teeth, being sure that no mouth material touched the inner sterile surface, placing it over the wound and taping the whole dressing over then put another smaller dressing Frank Sinatra style into his armpit for luck.

Thus employed tracer fire had set the bamboo on fire making the aforementioned hidden paths untenable, the enemy on the path took to the scub as it were and passed right by, I had dressings and bandages spread everywhere and was working hard, movement caught my eye and two enemy soldiers who looked they were on a walk in the park stopped by.

They seemed exited to see a combat medic hard at it, they were joined by a few more until there were about five watching when one of their NCO's, who looked like the same dude I had seen in the enemy camp appeared, and told them to never mind what I was doing and to keep moving they were all heavily armed and I just kept working.

Trying to keep the airtight bandage in place ..the sticking plaster would not stick to his clammy skin just then during a lull in the firing one of our Corporals appeared, he said he had a man down up ahead and I told him to bring him in, he said the man was immobile and requested that I go to his aid, I applied a dry bandage the airtight dressing and another man bound it in place, while I went to see the guy that was down further up.

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Rock hopping all the way because of mines the gunners on the APC's in the valley below saw it all and opened fire .. glancing downward bright white and yellow tracer was arcing upward toward our position, the guy who had been hit was on his own about seventy meters up range, his upper body was sheltered behind a low rock not his legs however which had taken multiple hits.

He had lost some blood and his bones were shattered, that he had not by then bled to death meant he was salvageable .. we waited until the fire storm abated a little, he was conscious and I told him I had a casualty clearing station up yonder and that was where we were going, he had no use of his legs and he looped both hands around my neck and I skull dragged him back to where we were going .. when we got there I left his boots and strides on and just bound both his legs together.

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When the medivac chopper arrived I placed him onto a stokes litter and saw him winched aboard with the seriously injured Lt there were another twelve or so walking wounded, I was hit in the left shoulder, back and legs with machine gun fire and shrapnel and still have a 5.56 mm slug embedded in my right hand .. while thus engaged elsewhere on the battlefield mines had exploded and another nine Australians were killed.

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