SUMMARY: How would you describe you worst day in the war? Five Vietnam War Veterans describe their worst days during the war. Part 2 of 2.
TEASER — Phil Carney: I could tell that people were panicked about something and they were pointing back, and I walked deeper into the water. I was real tall, and I got to about chest deep in the water and I figured out what was going on. There were children in the river that were being swept away.
INTRO — Kent C. Williamson: War is not pretty. It is not fun. It is not a video game that you turn off when Mom calls you for dinner. It’s not a movie nor a series on Netflix. It’s awful. At least that’s my perspective. Of course, I’ve never fought in a war. I was born during the Vietnam war and like many from my generation I only remember glimpses of it on the television set around supper time as a kid. But even the best news report can’t really capture what war is. Last time on the show we heard three Vietnam veterans tell us about their worst days during the war. Today we’ll hear from a few more. By the way, we don’t produce this show to try and glorify war, but instead we hope to give a little glimpse of the reality of it. In this episode we’ll also get a visit from a Civil War general, that’s right, a Civil War general who lives on in the words he left us about the brutality of war.
Welcome to the By War & By God Podcast, I’m your host Kent Williamson. This show is a companion series to the award-winning documentary film By War & By God. It’s a place where we can go deeper into the stories of the lives of these veterans than we’re able to in the film. Over this season you will hear the remarkable accounts of people who’s lives were forever changed by the Vietnam war. You’ll hear stories of heroism, and stories of tragedy… but you’ll also hear some amazing stories of reconciliation, and you’ll learn about a magnetic force that tugged and pulled and eventually drew these soldiers, medics, machine-gunners and crewman back to Vietnam for the purpose of serving some of the poorest of the poor in that beautiful country.
But before we start, I need to tell you about Big Heaven Cafe. Big Heaven Cafe is a simple web store with a few films to buy, including the documentary By War & By God, so if you have yet to see the film, or if you need a copy for a friend, a history buff, your school library, or a Vietnam veteran that you know, please click your way to Big Heaven Cafe dot com. That’s Big Heaven Cafe dot com and use the coupon code “podcast” to save five glorious bucks on the film. Oh, remember… 20% of all sales of By War & By God from Big Heaven Cafe go to Vets With A Mission, the non-profit that since 1989 has taken nearly 1400 Vietnam Veterans back to Vietnam. Why do they take them back? For healing and reconciliation.
WARNING: Alright, a quick warning to listeners that there are some rather disturbing events described in today’s episode, so now would be a good time to skip out if you’d rather not hear this.
Okay, let’s go back in time over 150 years… William Tecumseh Sherman was a general of the Union Army who fought in the Civil War. Sherman was at the first battle of Bull Run. He served under General Grant at the battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg. Vicksburg, by the way, was a battle that two of my great-great grandfathers fought in… both fought for the South, against Sherman. Before Sherman died in 1891 he left us a number of quotes about the reality and harshness of war. The voice you are about to hear is not the real voice of Sherman, we’ve used an actor for this part of the show. Without further ado… William Tecumseh Sherman…
“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
When you are good at war you get things named after you… the USS General Sherman.. a civil war gunboat, the Sherman Tank from World War II, and two different Fort Sherman’s, one in Idaho that closed in 1900 and one in Panama that began in 1912, which we gave over to Panama in 1999… all of these named after William Tecumseh Sherman who knew that war was hell.
Kent C. Williamson: What about your worst memories? Tell me about your worst day in Vietnam…
Walt Griffin: Well, I was sitting on perimeter watch at LZ Baldy…
DROP IN — Kent C. Williamson: LZ Baldy or Landing Zone Baldy (also known as Hill 63) was a base for the US Marines, US Army, and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. It was about 25 miles South of Da Nang. This is Walt Griffin…
Walt Griffin: Well, I was sitting on perimeter watch at LZ Baldy. We had a village out about a click and a half, which would be about a mile. And all of a sudden all hell broke loose. Explosions… They were close enough that I could see people running back and forth and just a lot of gunfire. And we had a CAP Patrol out there. Well the next morning I found out that we lost two guys and the Vietcong, or NVA – I can’t remember which it was – but they went through that village and since there wasn’t many men there they shot and killed about 160 women and children. And right then and there I was just in shock what war was. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before or even after that. I never experienced anything like that again.
Kent C. Williamson: How do you process that? How do you even try to make sense out of it?
Walt Griffin: Well I think a lot of times you just put it out of your mind, you go on about your business, you don’t think about it, you do your job. You know, you just don’t think about it, but then every once in a while something will hit that and you just… To this day, even in my trips back… on my first trip I tried to find that village and I couldn’t. I found the base I was on, but nobody really knew… I think it was a temporary village and so I never did find that. I was wanting to talk to the people there and reconcile with those people.
Kent C. Williamson: What would you say was your worst day?
Pat Cameron: The worst day was when I had to go work the emergency room…
Kent C. Williamson: This is Pat Cameron…
Pat Cameron: We had some incoming helicopters coming in one of the nights and we had more body bags than we had people. That was a bad night. I think if I remember we had about 12 to 13 body bags, six patients, and half of those didn’t make it. That was a bad night. I didn’t cry a lot because I must have had a lot of anger. I still have visions of that, of the body bags. I even have visions of people moving in the body bags. I just hadn’t been around death that much. Death is tough on a young guy. It was tough on me. It’s still tough on me. They didn’t have no life, they didn’t get a chance to enjoy nothing. A lot of them were there because they didn’t want to be there, they got put there. Those were the bad days. The good days was when you patch somebody up and you know he’s gonna make it. Being a corpsman is not easy. Even though I was a specialist I still saw a lot of blood, you know, and before I became an eye surgeon I had to learn to be a basic corpsman. I had to learn how to do things and I still put those things to use when I worked in the emergency room. But those were bad memories, those were not good memories. They’re not memories that I want to dwell on. That’s why I know I’m blessed to be here. I guess I’m blessed for the fact that I did get exposed to it or maybe I never would have gone back to Vietnam.
Kent C. Williamson: We’ll learn more about what these Vets are doing in Vietnam today in a future episode.
Kent C. Williamson: What about your worst day?
Steve Scott: Well, I’m not going to go into too much detail but I had a very close friend… the day he died. Operation Arizona.
DROP IN — Kent C. Williamson: Operation Arizona took place in June of 1967 and included the resettlement of over 1600 refugees to a more safe location south of Da Nang.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Corporal Steve Scott.
Steve Scott: Operation Arizona. I don’t want to go into detail with that, but he was…
Kent C. Williamson: You lost your friend.
Steve Scott: I lost my best buddy.
Kent C. Williamson: Tell me about your worst day in Vietnam…
BREAK: But first, if you served in Vietnam and would like to share the memory of your worst day, I would like to hear it. Or perhaps your Dad or Uncle or Aunt served and you’d like to ask them about their toughest day there. You can record it on your phone and email it to me, or if you prefer typing… I’d love to read it, too. Either way, send it to me at Kent at By War AND By God dot com that’s Kent… K E N T at By War AND By God dot com. I’ll look forward to learning about your experiences and we might put some of your stories into a future episode.
Now back to the show…
Kent C. Williamson: Tell me about your worst day in Vietnam…
Phil Carney: My worst day in Vietnam, without question, was really out of context because it wasn’t a combat scenario.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Phil Carney…
Phil Carney: I was on Hill 55 detached to Second Battalion First Marines, and in 1970 a devastating typhoon hit Da Nang area, and it really shut down the war for almost 2 days. Nothing could fly. It was leveling and flooding everything. The entire city of Da Nang was practically going underwater and it just kind of shut the war down. And they pulled a lot of different units in to help rescue civilians in the city of Da Nang and I was part of that. So they loaded us up, just a lot of different mixed units, brought us in to the city of Da Nang, put us in big deuce and a half trucks and we were just going into different areas and rescuing civilians. Entire villages and so on were being swept away. It was just horrific. So it was very out of context, and the guys that I was with were on the outskirts of Da Nang out towards Marble Mountain, out in that area, and it was just going underwater. And we pulled into this one village. It was dark, it was at night, we had floodlights and so on on the trucks and just trying to gather up civilians that were just scattered everywhere. I got off the truck and I was about waist deep in water and was walking down towards the village just trying to help people that were coming up the hill. It was down near the banks of the Da Nang River and I could tell that people were panicked about something, and they were pointing back. And I walked deeper into the water-I was real tall-and I got to about chest deep in the water and I figured out what was going on. And what was going on is there were children in the river that were being swept away, and nobody could find them. But you could hear them screaming. You could tell they were children by the tone of their voice. And I just lost it, and I was trying to get to these kids, trying to find them, just kind of groping in the dark. Big pieces of debris, I can remember, were slamming into me and other guys were behind me trying to pull me back out because it was dangerous. And I was just losing it because I figured out that these kids were drowning and being swept in this river. And we got back in the trucks and I just couldn’t get over that. And then about an hour later it was daylight and we went back to that same area and waded down in there and found a bunch of these little kids, and they had been swept into the concertina wire that was all along the river. And they had just been, like in a blender, just churned up in this concertina wire. And it was obviously the same kids that we couldn’t find. And that was without a doubt the worst day. It just kind of came out of nowhere. It was really out of context. It wasn’t a combat situation, and I can sort of remember just pulling parts of those kids out of that wire, just trying to get them out of the wire, and just losing it. I never got over that. Worst day… It really kind of caught me off guard, but definitely the worst day.
Kent C. Williamson: What was your worst day like in Vietnam?
Chuck Ward: My worst day in Vietnam was a number of days…
Kent C. Williamson: This is Chuck Ward…
Chuck Ward: God’s mercy, I wasn’t in any ambushes or firefights like so many of our soldiers and Marines were. My worst day, actually I had several worst days, beginning before I went to Vietnam, and then in Vietnam. My worst day before I went to Vietnam, in fact it was probably the defining moment that I decided I’m joining, and I’m volunteering for Vietnam. It was kind of like the John Wayne attitude, and I’m going to get even. And what happened was, one of the four individuals that went with me down to the recruiting station to volunteer for service and then volunteer for Vietnam had been killed in Vietnam. And I was able to go to his funeral in the states at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. And what happened was, there’s the cemetery scene, and there’s the casket, and there’s the mom and dad, and Taps are played and the flag is folded, and everybody starts leaving. It was a terribly cold day. It was wintertime, it was raining. And my friend Johnny Pondoff had been killed during the battle for Hué. And his mother got up and walked over to the casket and climbed up on the casket and embraced it like she was hugging her son. And that really impacted me. That was my worst day before I ever went to Vietnam. But that was a seminal moment where “I’m going, I’m leaving college and I’m going”. So that’s what I did. My worst day in Vietnam… Probably Lieutenant Commander Hall. I had done a briefing on a mission. It was to Laos – three of our planes went there. At the conclusion of the briefing the pilots man their planes. And you know you’re always joking around, and Commander. Hall had a new watch and so I said “Commander Hall, if you don’t come back can I have your watch?” And he said “Sure, Chuck, you can have my watch. I’ll see you later.” Well, he sustained battle damage over the target and should have gone to Da Nang and taken the arresting wire and made an emergency landing there, but he insisted on coming back to the ship. And he fought the airplane coming back because of the issues with hydraulics and so on. And when he came back, about… in the glide path, maybe a mile from the ship, he lost it, and he crashed, and he was killed. And there I was holding his watch. I wish I had never asked for it.
CLOSE & CREDITS — Kent C. Williamson: Thank you for listening to this episode of the By War & By God Podcast from Paladin Pictures. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Learn more about By War & By God at our website… By War And By God dot com. A reminder to use the coupon code “podcast” at Big Heaven Cafe dot com to save those 5 glorious bucks on your copy of the film By War & By God. And if you have an Amazon Prime account you can watch the film for free.
Find me on Facebook or Twitter. Just search for Kent C. Williamson and while you’re on Facebook go ahead and search for By War & By God and like us. Email me your thoughts about the show at Kent at By War And By God dot com.
By the way, the film has a couple of upcoming festival appearances. It will be at the Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 22nd where it will screen at the historic Roxy Theatre. By War & By God will also screen in early May at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando. So if you’re in either of those parts of the country, go see it!
The By War & By God Podcast is written and produced by me Kent C. Williamson with Sound Design and Finishing by Ashby Wratchford. Our Audio Engineer for today’s show is Steve Carpenter. The By War & By God theme music was composed by Will Musser and by the way, for a limited time you can download for free the entire soundtrack of the film at our website.
The voice of William Tecumseh Sherman in today’s episode was performed by Greg Allen Morgoglione. Greg also helped us with lots of great ideas for the sound effects for this episode. Thanks, Greg!
Special thanks to the Paladin Team which includes Leslie Wood, Steve Carpenter, Dan Fellows, Steve Lessick, and Ashby Wratchford. Thanks also to my brother Brad who helped record the interviews you heard in this episode back when we shot them for the film.
This podcast is a production of Paladin Pictures. Yep, Paladin is a film production company that sees the value in audio podcasts. Why? Because like is the case with By War & By God… the podcast can go deeper into the story than the film ever can. Paladin Pictures is committed to the creation of redemptive entertainment and thought-provoking cultural critique. Learn more about us and our films at Paladin Pictures dot com. That’s Paladin P-A-L-A-D-I-N Pictures dot com.
By War & By God is produced at the Paladin studio in the amazingly wonderful, beautiful little town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
And of course, thank you to our Veterans… those who returned… and especially those who didn’t. Like my wife’s Uncle Floyd. Thank you!
EPISODE 04 – My Worst Day In Vietnam – Part 2
PLAYERS: Walt Griffin, Pat Cameron, Steve Scott, Phil Carney, Chuck Ward
Big Heaven Cafe: Save $5 on the DVD of By War & By God with the coupon code “Podcast”
By War & By God Soundtrack – Download the original soundtrack to the film for free!