Landing Zone X-Ray: Soldiers and Counselors

10-DSC_0081

Ia Drang was one of the most significant battles during the Vietnam War because it was the first major engagement between US and NVA forces. Its memories are permanently engrained into the minds of those who fought there. During this trip I have had the pleasure of spending time with a man who has not only been impacted by this war, but who also made a significant contribution to this battle.

Ramon A. “Tony” Nadal served 22 years in the US Army in both Germany and Vietnam. A 1958 West Point graduate, he served three tours in Vietnam. His first came in 1963-64 as the commander of a Special Forces “A” detachment based in Nam Dong. His unit was responsible for conducting counter-insurgency operations, ambushes, and raids. The second tour came in 1965-66 while he was a company commander in the 7th Cavalry Division. Located near the city of Pleiku in the Central Highlands,Tony led troops into battle in the Ia Drang Valley. He returned for a third time in 1968 to conduct a study of operations of the allied forces throughout different tactical zones. Tony has a long list of decorations that include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Vietnam Cross Gallantry. He is also Special Forces, Army Ranger, Pathfinder, and Airborne qualified.

11-DSC_0091

Today we visited the area close to LZ X-Ray and Tony described his account of the conflict. It was an emotional time as he recalled the names and faces of men he lost in battle. Tony emphasized the importance of brotherhood and said that “even through the disaster of war, sometimes flowers bloom.” He went on to say that to this day, almost 50 years after the war ended, he sees his men as his own family. His experiences are described in the best-selling book written by his commanding officer, Hal Moore, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” and was later made in to a major motion picture. I have truly been blessed with the opportunity to get to know Tony as well as hear his wisdom, knowledge, and experiences. My experiences with COL Tony Nadal in Vietnam will definitely be a time that I will never forget.

Cody Pentecost

25-DSC_0257

A native of Los Angeles, Steve Hansen enlisted in the Army at the age of 17 where he found a home. “Everything that I am today is because of the Army.” Upon completion of basic training, he spent time in Germany before being transferred to Ft. Benning, GA in early 1964 for 18 months of additional training as a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. Upon arriving in Vietnam, he served as a mortar forward observer and fought in the battle of Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. After six months, Mr. Hansen was reassigned to company headquarters being responsible for logistics in the field. He served a second tour of duty from 1969-1970 as Company Commander for Charlie Company of the 20th Division and later as Commander of Alpha Company 23rd S&T Battalion at Chu Lai.

26-DSC_0259

In my conversations with Mr. Hansen, he told me that the most difficult thing he has struggled with while in the military was being worthy to lead his men. That admission resonated with me because I have wondered if I am and will be an effective leader in various areas of my life. After spending many hours with Mr. Hansen, I have realized that being a good leader takes time and that you must listen to those around you who know more than you do. Mr. Hansen told me that in a platoon, there is a lieutenant and a platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant has more experience than the lieutenant, so he must teach the officer everything that he needs to know so that he can effectively lead his platoon. At some time, the platoon sergeant steps back and allows the lieutenant to led, but he remains ever present for advice and guidance. Mr. Hansen carried this principle into civilian life as well–if you need help, seek out those around you, whose opinions you value and respect.

COL Steve Hansen is an incredible man who served his country with distinction. I have learned much from him and I am very grateful for this opportunity to learn from all the veterans. Most of all, I will never will forget the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam and will always honor them.

Blane R. Bias

37-DSC_0507

14-DSC_0192

In Memoriam

1-DSC_0552

Jackie Lee Tate volunteered to serve his country in 1968 despite having a bad back and being newly married. He left his job at the garment factory in Branson and after completing basic training, Jackie deployed to Vietnam in mid-March, 1969 as a member of Bravo Company, 12th Cavalry Battalion, First Air Cavalry Division. When Jackie’s company commander learned of his status–married, with a medical condition–he began preparing documents to send him home, but until the paperwork went through the chain of command, Bravo Company was sent into the “Iron Triangle,” an area northwest of Saigon.

On April 8, the enemy attacked, and as Jackie provided covering fire to allow his company to fall back, an artillery shell took his life. A telegram arrived in Branson a few days later informing his wife Linda, eight months pregnant, of the news. PFC Jackie Lee Tate, killed after only three weeks in South Vietnam, was awarded the Bronze Star for service to his country. Twenty days after Jackie’s death, Linda gave birth to their son, John Tate, Heating and Cooling Supervisor at College of the Ozarks.

28-DSC_0445

Jerry William Russell was born into a farm family. His great-grandfather homesteaded 720 acres in southern Minnesota, near the Iowa border. Jerry received his Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Iowa State University in May, 1969 and was thereafter drafted into the Army. After completing basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Jerry went to Officer Training School at Ft. Benning and by January, 1970 found himself in the “Iron Triangle” of South Vietnam.

Sergeant Jerry Russell was in camp at Tay Ninh when it came under enemy mortar attack on March 3. Severely injured by one of the rounds, Jerry died of his wounds three days later, leaving behind a new bride, Chris, the family farm, and his younger brother, Donn Russell, Professor of Agriculture at College of the Ozarks.

29-DSC_0497

“This Brings Back Memories” and A Small Town Man’s Brave and Selfless Service

“This brings back memories,” said Army veteran Jim Greer, as we arrived at the airport in Saigon. He was remembering the first time he landed there in 1968, when the runway was covered in “potholes” from constant mortar fire. His plane even had to circle the airport until enemy fire died down. Jim remembered thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” Although it is sometimes painful for the veterans on this trip to relive these frightful memories, it is necessary for us in order to learn the impact and significance of the Vietnam War.

Today, our group visited the Cu Chi tunnels, located northwest of Saigon. The Vietcong used these tunnels as a base from which to carry out attacks on Americans. While walking on the jungle trail, we heard the rapid, powerful firing of an AK-47. There is a firing range on the site where visitors can pay to fire the guns used by the Vietcong during the war. Immediately, Jim leaned over told me that the noise of the AK-47 was the “scariest sound in the world.” It brought back more memories of times when he received heavy fire from the Vietcong while he was flying missions.

Jim was not the only one who was affected by the sound of the gunfire. The noise prompted several of the veterans to share stories with students about their frightening experiences in Vietnam. I learned more from Jim’s recollection of the terrifying gunfire than I could from any tour guide or history book. That is what makes this trip unique. We are connecting with the veterans on a personal level; our education is not limited to hearing stories and visiting battle sights. We are putting ourselves in their place, trying to understand their fears, frustrations, and feelings about the war. I am closer to understanding their sacrifice than ever before.

Jessica Turner

05-DSC_0087

22-DSC_0395

14-DSC_0245

3-DSC_0523

Paul Frampton was from a small farm town in Missouri and he answered the call to serve his country in the spring of 1965. After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Riley, Kansas, Paul deployed to Vietnam in August. He served as the radio man for the commanding officer of Company B, 28th regiment, 1st infantry. His base of operations was located at Phuoc Vinh in III Corps, with his missions extending throughout the “Iron Triangle,” an area northwest of Saigon. His company ran sweeps looking for and securing enemy forces. Paul was tasked with calling in air support, including evacuation, supplies, air and artillery strikes. After his service in Vietnam, Paul careered in the grocery business and is currently the state inspector for the Veterans for Foreign Wars.

I have seen many amazing and significant things while on this journey, but the one thing that has stuck out in my mind was the sense of duty Paul’s family had. Not only did Paul serve in Vietnam, but his twin brothers served as well. This is significant because fighting in Vietnam was accompanied by so much death; if death didn’t take you, you always knew someone it did take. The Frampton family sent three young men to Vietnam and all served their country honorably and returned home safe.

This trip has and will continue to be an adventure of a lifetime, but I must explain what has been my constant rock in all of the mad dashes through Saigon traffic–the massive wealth of information to which I have been exposed. Information is the entryway to the future and the key to innovation. Information can help you succeed, and one of the greatest sources of information we have are the men and women who have served or are serving in the armed forces. I have learned, am learning, and will learn so much about not only what these men and women have done but also how to live life and love every minute of it.

Jonathan Minner

17-DSC_0299

19-DSC_0314

31-DSC_0529

Return to a Place that No Longer Exists, But Memories Do

Tom Egleston was deployed to Vietnam with the 3rd Squadron of the 5th Air Cavalry and spent February of 1970 to February of 1971 flying Huey H model helicopters “slicks” in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. At the time, Vietnam had been divided into four regions, or corps tactical zones; the Mekong Delta was the 4th corps. During our nine hour layover in San Francisco, I asked Tom to point out on a map where he flew missions; he circled the entire 4th corps with his finger. He told me at this point in the war, President Nixon had declared the Mekong Delta region pacified, meaning the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam took over ground operations and American forces resumed an advisory role. Therefore, he flew almost exclusively in support of ARVN forces. Flying “slicks,” he would insert and evacuate ARVN and RFPF, or “ruff-puffs” as Tom calls them, the Vietnamese equivalent of a national guard.

Tom is a goldmine of information and stories. During my initial bombardment of questions on the bus ride to Kansas City, he recalled that “ruff-puffs” would be inserted to do a mission, and when they returned to camp would have ducks hanging from their belts. Needless to say, Tom questioned their effectiveness. However, it did come as a surprise for me to hear Tom credit the ARVN as being a somewhat effective force because I had been under the impression that South Viet Nam was lost because American forces were withdrawn. Tom informed me that it was not the withdrawal of American forces, but the withdrawal of American funds that did in South Viet Nam. Nevertheless, his wartime service forged an inexplicable bond with his fellow aviators.

Today, we visited Vinh Long in the Mekong Delta. It had been the location of an airfield from which Tom’s missions were staged. Today the airfield has been replaced by a private Vietnamese vocational school, and a military training post; only a filled in bunker remains serving as a pillar to an overhang. The experience was disappointing, not for myself, but I felt a disappointment for my veteran. I do not know what I was expecting, but I firmly believe that every veteran deserves a victorious welcome back to wherever they served. This was a war unlike any other, but the men who fought it were much the same.

Jacob Mullet

09-DSC_0609

15-DSC_0685

17-DSC_0698

Reading the books, watching the documentaries, and writing papers could not have prepared me for the trip of a lifetime. As I hear stories from each of the Vietnam veterans and see their eyes gaze upon the ground they risked their life for, I begin to understand how their time in the war changed who they were and I began to be changed as well.

It is my honor to be assigned to John Sorensen on this trip. He served in the U.S. Army from 1968-1973 as a Huey Helicopter pilot in the 1st Aviation Brigade. Today we stopped where John served in the Mekong Delta and I was able to seize an opportunity that I will cherish as long as I live. I had been waiting for the opportunity to thank John for his service to our country. This was the time. After the pictures where taken and the questions where asked, I took him aside, shook his hand, looked him in the eye and thanked him for his service. Instantly the grip on our handshake became impossibly more firm. We embraced and in the hot Vietnam heat as mopeds flew by, and I understood why John Sorensen served. He fought for every man, woman, child, and me.

Even though many of these veterans had never seen each other until this trip, I see a commitment to each other that is unbreakable. John told me a story that due to the lack of efficiency from the ARVN generals, the American solders where not allowed to engage with the unsuspecting enemy. It was then I began to understand where the unbreakable bond of brotherhood came from between the veterans. John and the other veterans did not fight to stop the spread of communism or to win the South Vietnamese independence, rather, the American Vietnam solders fought for each other. John said, “We did not have the support of our population, but we certainly knew we had the support of one another.” Another veteran said, “I cannot say enough about the guys I served with, I love them.” With these two quotes the bond of brotherhood that exists is clear, and that the purpose of their service was for one another.

I have made memories that I will cherish for eternity and learned lessons that will change my life. Today I learned how to develop a relationship that is unequaled from the best example possible, the U.S. Veteran and, specifically, John Sorensen.

Caleb McElvain

01-DSC_0041

04-DSC_0355

Is This Really Happening?

How do you prepare yourself to spend almost two weeks with a group of people who had a variety of experiences during the Vietnam war, were willing to lay down their lives for our freedom, and who are now taking the time to travel with college students to help them understand the conflict? I have no idea. But, the best answer I could come up with to that question was…..you don’t. You simply must try to prepare your heart to meet some of the most amazing people you’ll ever come in contact with. Be ready to listen to them; be ready to learn from them; and be ready to honor them–this is all I know to do.

My veteran is Mr. Bill Bailey, and I will have much more to say about his amazing life next week, but so far the best moment for me was when I saw him the airport. He walked up to me, gave me a hug, and told me it was great to finally meet me. It was as if we were already old friends. Bill and eleven other amazing people who fought so hard and sacrificed so much for our country are going to be spending the next twelve days with us and I can already tell that it is going to be an incredible and life-changing trip.

I’m sitting on a bus right now, riding south from Saigon into the Mekong Delta, and I still can’t believe that this is actually happening. We have conquered (sort of) thirty-six hours of travel time, landed in a foreign county, and are ready to continue this journey of a lifetime. I have already heard many amazing stories and learned so much and it’s only been two days! Oh, and our tour guide told us that we’re going to be eating elephant and tiger¬†for dinner tomorrow. This trip already is amazing!

Haly Johnson

IMG_2244-0.JPG

IMG_2245-0.JPG

IMG_2246-0.JPG

IMG_2247-0.JPG

IMG_2248-0.JPG

A Moment to Remember And a Time We Shall Never Forget

It can be difficult to put into words the emotions and feelings that I have felt over the last couple months of preparation for our Vietnam Tour. As I sit here in the San Francisco airport, looking around at the Veterans and students beginning to connect as they prepare for what will be a long 24 hours of travel before we reach our destination, my mind returns to the memorable moments that brought me here. Certainly, the day when I received the letter congratulating me on being selected for this incredible opportunity ranks high on the list. Another proud moment was when I sat down at our first pre-trip meeting and looked at my fellow students, whose wide smiles betrayed the same eagerness that I felt. I also remember the excitement of learning the name of the man who would be my Veteran as well as the first time that we were able to communicate. As great as those moments all were, they pale in comparison with the moment at 7:30 a.m. this morning when I boarded the charter bus departing from our College and, for the first time after months of anticipation, saw the faces of some of the incredible Veterans who will become our teachers, companions, and heroes over the next couple of weeks. In that moment, I realized with absolute certainty that we were about to embark on a journey which would inevitably and irrevocably alter each and every one of us in unimaginable ways. With that thought, any trepidation or anxiety that I had felt up to this point dissipated. On this, the trip of a lifetime, I know that every moment will be one to remember, and I cannot wait to begin.

Molly Matney