Jon Crawford

Home
Up

 

VIETNAM WAR STORIES

Jon Crawford, 1954

Painting of Jon by Candy, daughter of brother, Gene Crawford (Class of 1944 - recently deceased) from an old photo!

 

*** June 27, 2008

The Claymore Ambush

Avoid becoming predictable. Change your routine - especially on daily activities or when taking a route to and from an area of operation. These admonitions were often heard from instructors at the Infantry School and probably at other branch schools as well. I'm sure we all must have considered this to be logical, but maybe a bit far out to give the enemy credit for such attention to detail.

One day in Ninh Hoa the value of this teaching point was driven home to me in spades. I was somehow informed that there had been several VC killed in an ambush and that the site was being left undisturbed until later that day when some senior officers could see the results firsthand. It was obvious that this was very unusual, so I jumped in my jeep and went out to the incident area.

As I approached the area, Korean road guards directed me to the exact site. It was not roped off as this was unnecessary when Korean soldiers were posted to keep unwanted gawkers out. Those soldiers meant what they said! Since the senior officers weren't due until later, I was afforded a walk thru and briefing. The site was littered with the body parts of what was said to have been an eight man patrol. I can't adequately describe the carnage. There were severed arms, legs and torsos everywhere. Another of the most surprising things about this incident was that the ambush was executed by one Korean soldier detonating several Claymore mines.

This unfortunate patrol had taken the same route once too often and as their approach placed them in the best killing zone - I'm sure they never knew what hit them.!

The surprising thing to me was that the Claymore was used. We'd been taught that it would be an effective ambush weapon; however, most of us at that time had only employed it in a defensive role as an anti infiltration weapon against an attack. It is a convex rectangular (approx 6" X 4" and 1" thick) device that is positioned above ground on sissor type legs.

M18A1 Claymore mine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:US_M18a1_claymore_mine.jpg

It is electrically detonated with C 4 type explosive sending pellets hopefully toward the enemy. (In static defensive situations there were reports of unattentive security guards allowing the mines to be turned in an undesirable direction.)

This memory came to mind this morning as I chided myself for repeatedly taking the same neighborhood route for my daily hourly walk.

*** May 19 2008

The Bait

 
This happened on a typically slow day in Ninh Hoa - it could have been on a Sunday afternoon. A helicopter pilot called on our team advisory frequency and asked if I would ride with him to pick up what appeared to be a wounded enemy soldier lying out in the middle of a big grassy field. The pilot's tone indicated great frustration. He said that I was the third or fourth team he'd called and was wondering if everyone was either indifferent to the war or scared to death of anything even hinting of danger.  He said the soldier was alive because he'd seen him turning over and moving his arms and legs.
 
It was common knowledge that the NVA had used this sort of 'bait tactic' on several occasions before, so I asked if there were any gun ships with him for security. He was becoming more angry as he replied in very colorful language, no and if he was talking to another gutless wonder, he'd just try somewhere else. I asked him to give me a couple of minutes to try and get things organized and I'd get back to him. I called a Korean Major friend of mine out in the 9th (White Horse) Inf Div and told him the situation. He agreed with my bait assessment and quickly said that he would try to line up a couple of gun ships, a few of his soldiers and he'd get back to me.  In just a few minutes he called to say everything was arranged and that we should all meet in town at the ball field helipad.
 
When I called the pilot to say where he should meet us, he couldn't believe it and did say 'FINALLY'.
 
We all met as planned and my Major friend had a Korean Lt. and about five soldiers. He said they had all been briefed about the situation and when contact was made with the gunships overhead, we all boarded and left. The site was about 30 to 45 minutes from Ninh Hoa and sure enough the soldier was smack in the middle of this nice grassy field with high ground surounding on three sides. I remember thinking, Aw shoot (or something like that) this has disaster written all over it. But the gunships were circling overhead, so we went in and sat down about 20 yards from the 'wounded' soldier. Just as we landed this poor fellow jumped up and started running. The major and I got out of one side door and the rest had jumped out the other, lined up and started firing. The enemy soldier must have been hit 20 times, and was dead probably before he hit the ground. The major was yelling red faced at the Lt. and I looked up at the chopper pilot to see him also red faced and mouthing something to me I'm glad I couldn't hear. I might have had to take out my own frustration on him.
 
We loaded the body and his belongings on the huey and went back to Ninh Hoa. By the time we landed, everyone had calmed down and the Major told us that the Lt. had told his men that we wanted to take the soldier as prisoner; however, when the fellow started running, the Lt. had fired what he meant as a warning shot to hopefully stop the young msoldier from running and his men thought that was their signal to take him out.
 
A few days later the Major brought me a few of the soldier's things. His 'helmet' was coarse woven straw with some sort of poor grade plastic covering over it. There was also a small ammo pouch and crude belt and canteen. I brought the items home and intended to offer them to the Infantry Museum at Benning, but somehow miss placed them.
 
Later still the Major came by to tell me that info gained from a prisoner indicated that there was indeed a reinforced weapons platoon hidden on the high ground around that enemy soldier and had it not been for the gunships, we'd all have been history.
 
As an aside to this story, I am a great admirer of the Koreans. Tough, intelligent soldiers who ask for nor give any mercy. I hope I'm never their prisoner with info they might want.

*** May 15 2008

First Tour
 
Here it was June '67, and I already considered myself sort of late to the dance for my first VN tour and being assigned to MACV (Military Advisory Command, Vietnam) was insult added. Everyone knew, especially career officers, that being assigned to an American unit was much more preferable and career enhancing than advisory duty. Also, almost everyone retuning from advisory duty told of the disappointment and frustration involved in trying to cut through the Vietnamese bureaucratic red tape. For instance, when in pursuit of an enemy unit, it was necessary to obtain permission from the next Province big wig before crossing borders. Approvals when given were seldom timely, so more often than not I imagine the opposing force laughed as they strolled home. But orders were orders and we all make the best of them, MACV or whatever.
I sat next to and made a brief 'on the flight over' friendship with another first tour infantry Major. He was black, from a northern state and I remember that we had some good laughs on lots of topics. He was also slated for advisory duty. We enjoyed a meal and a couple of beers during in processing and were both assigned as senior district advisors in I I Corps districts. I'm embarrassed that I can't remember his name as I would like to look him up on the wall. He was killed by a rocket blast on his first day in his district as he was unpacking in his team house. 
 
My assignment was to Ninh Hoa District in Khanh Hoa Province. Khanh Hoa is a coastal province with its HQ being in the city of Nha Trang. Ninh Hoa is on highway 1 (Street Without Joy) about 25 miles north of Nha Trang.
 
When I arrived by chopper in Ninh Hoa, my predecessor was waiting, duffel in hand, to depart on the same bird. As he threw his bag on board, he said something to the effect, 'Man I'm glad to see you! This is a rather quite district, or at least it has been. There are some rumors of things picking up, but there's always rumors. Good luck, trust Cho, your interpreter, he's a good guy. Gotta go, see ya'.
 
Cho was cautious with the new, unknown boss and without saying much, drove me to the team house where I met the five NCO members of my advisory team. Since there had not been any recent attacks or enemy activity of any sort, the main problems as reported by the team members were mostly insignificant problems such as how and where to obtain food for the team and constant complaints by the district chief and his staff about the safety aspect of American resupply convoy trucks speeding through the town.
 
 My counterpart, Capt. Diem, the District Chief, was tall for a Vietnamese, about my height, 6 ft. He spoke no english nor I Vietnamese, so we relied heavily on my interpreter, Cho, a young man whose family had a Chinese background. Cho proved to be extremely helpful and loyal to me - my prayers are that he came through it all in good shape. I was also fortunate to have the Korean 9th (White Horse) Inf. Division HQ with one of its brigades located within the district a few miles north of the town. My team house was in the center of town with Hwy 1 just outside the front door. And I did notice that the large trucks were clipping along pretty fast.
 
On about my second or third day in the district, Capt. Diem invited me to his Hq. compound for a welcoming dinner. As we sat out on a balcony enjoying a cool breeze before dinner, I noticed a young soldier walk by with a bucket. As he walked he was continually having to stop lizards that were trying to climb out of the bucket. I asked what that was all about and was told that was our dinner. I later told Cho that the lizards were OK but he was to find a way to help me avoid eating cats, rats or monkeys. To the best of my knowledge he was successful in that mission.
 
Capt. Diem was a soft spoken, intelligent officer who always treated me with respect. And looking back over my two years in Vietnam, I believe that he might have been the only one of my VN counterparts who was not corrupt and demanding kickbacks for any and all things happening in his area of responsibility. I learned from Capt. Diem and hope that I left a positive impact on the district.
 
His district Hq was on a relatively small compound - maybe a 2 or 3 acres. His security force for the compound was a pitiful looking 30 man platoon of rag tag troops armed with 30 cal. carbines. There was a very shallow depression around the outside of the compound that served as defensive positions in the event of attack. Capt. Diem said that he would direct the fight from his office. I suggested that we improve the defensive positions, place claymore mines outside the perimeter and build him a command bunker. He replied that because we were so close to sea level, digging a bunker was impossible due to water seepage. The nearby Koreans were happy to provide the materials and help us build an above ground bunker. When it was finished, Capt. Diem sort of smiled and looked at me as if humoring a small child. A couple of months later when under a mortar attack, Cho and I arrived at the compound at 2 am to find Capt Diem, without his condescending smile, in the bunker. I called in a C 130 that kept the area lit with flares until daylight when the Koreans came. There was an NVA battalion that could have easily overrun the compound. A captured soldier later said they waited because they thought the flares were for a 'Jolly Green Giant' overhead with its awesome firepower.
 
I was having trouble thinking of a way to get the trucks slowed, but finally flagged a big refrigerated semi down and offered the GI driver a cold drink. We began talking and I explained the worry that a small child could dart out on the street before one of the big rigs could stop. Also mentioned that we were always good for a cool place to stop for a rest/drink and we wouldn't turn down a case of steak, chops or whatever. He turned out to be as good as his word about spreading the offer. We soon had not only several truckers taking breaks with us, but slower traffic and more food than we could put in the freezer part of our refrigerator
 
After about six months I was reassigned to travel throughout the country inspecting Regional and Popular Force VN units. To this day I don't know if the move was due to something I did to ruffle someones feathers or if I might have been considered a good fit for that assignment. Even though Capt. Diem was comfortable to work with and receptive to most of my advice and suggestions, like most Vietnamese, he was not exactly a patriotic ball of fire. I'm sure all of us have mixed feelings about the VN debacle. I'll always be proud to have served when the time came, but there is only sadness at the lack of a positive outcome of a 'war' that cost more than 58,000 of our best. I wonder what they're saying to LBJ in the place where they all are now. I also learned to not necessarily accept an otherwise popular rationale for extreem actions, such as, "If we don't stop them in VN, a domino effect will cause the entire pacific rim to fall to communism" That rallying cry would have been OK if we'd been allowed to conduct the war properly. But our hands were tied.
 
In my opinion most Vietnamese in the south just didn't have enough good old 'George Washington fire in the belly' will to win - it seemed that they relied too heavily on us Americans. And we weren't permitted to fight as we'd been taught. 
 
*** May 2008

Please leave me alone!

Every couple of weeks Capt. Diem and I would drive through the district. He helped me become familiar with the various villages, the road network and his version of the state of security within the district. Sometimes he would stop and talk with some of the village elders, but usually he would just give me a brief history of a particular village and explain whether it's income was from farming, fishing or whatever. I remember him explaining that one village we visited, well inland, was occupied by people who had been forced to move from the coast where their livelihood had always been fishing. He said the move was necessary because he had been unable to stop their aid to the Viet Cong. Most people looked at us with neutral expressions, but these displaced people had a look of malevolent hatred.

One hot day we stopped beside the road to talk with an old man who was taking a break from plowing with his water buffalo under a shade tree. He was just as one would probably imagine - muddy from plowing with a long white beard and a drooping Fu Man Chu mustache. We all shook hands cordially and Capt. Diem and the man had a conversation. As usual, Cho and I just waited and eventually we said goodby and left. Capt. Diem didn't enlighten me concerning the conversation and I knew that if significant, Cho would tell me later. Later, after Cho and I were back in the team house he said the old man had told Capt. Diem in no uncertain terms that he had survived several wars, different forms of governments and his observation was that regardless of the type gov't in power, the village sons were taken off to fight, usually never to be heard from again, and everyone had to provide about half of their crop to whatever gov't for taxes, so to him one was no different from the next. Please just leave me alone.

 

***April 2008

I was in the Cholon district of Saigon as the '68 Tet offensive began. Fireworks and explosions were common during the Tet celebrations, however, the distinctive AK-47 sounds made it  apparent that this was not the normal celebration. As events progressed, our observations from the roof of the 'Five Oceans BOQ' made it look as though the entire country was burning. Several of us were temporarily there for various reasons, but most of the BOQ occupants worked at the  MACV Hq. , or 'pentagon east' as it was commonly known,  - several miles from the hotel billet. Everyone in the BOQ was told not to attempt to report to work but to remain in the hotel as many areas between the hotel and MACV Hq had not been cleared. I remember four of the 'Saigon warriors' thought their jobs were too vital to remain in the BOQ and disregarded the order - their burned jeep and bodies were found later just a few miles from the BOQ. Several of my buddies and I didn't think it cowardly at all to follow orders and watch the goings on with  cold beer from the BOQ roof.

As the worst of the fighting was ending, I witnessed something that for me pretty much summed up our sad story in VietNam. It happened at the Nha Trang Province Hq as I was en route to my district further north in Ninh Hoa. A North Vietnamese soldier was holed up in a small foul smelling latrine room outside one of the compound buildings. In spite of being told that his unit had been defeated and that he must surrender, he refused to come out and in fact fired his rifle at anyone he saw. Finally someone tossed a grenade and killed him. But before he died, he had used his blood to write a message on the wall. It said in effect that even though he would die during Tet '68, the north would eventually be victorious and defeat the corrupt south. As his body was dragged out, I was disappointed to see the complete lack of respect for a fellow soldier - albeit the enemy - who had died believing in his cause. I honestly didn't see that level of zeal and 'fire in the belly' of the troops in the south. On that day deep down I somehow thought that the enemy soldier might just be prophetic.

*** March 2008

Hi friends, can you stand another boring war story? I read recently how the Montagnards from the central highlands in Viet Nam are still being treated badly. I hate that - they saved our bacon on many occasions. Before I get too old to remember some of this, for what it's worth ----

 
I wish that somewhere along the way I'd have taken a writing course because I'm sure I can't do justice in trying to explain memorable experiences with the Montagnards in VN. 
After arriving in country for my 2nd VN tour, I was assigned to the newly formed Ranger Command. There was no choice - the big man said that the next 30 or so Airborne/Ranger qualified infantry officers would go to this outfit. When asked which section of the country I'd prefer, there was no hesitation, the central highlands in II Corps was my choice, mainly because of the 'yards'. I didn't serve with the yards during my first tour, but was in a district near enough to become friends with people from one of their nearby tribes. They would make beautiful crossbows and ask me to swap them for fatigue uniforms, jackets, beer, etc. On my trips to Saigon, needless to say, the crossbows went like hotcakes. And would you believe I didn't even keep one to bring home.

Anyway, on my 2nd tour, it was my luck to have served with these great people the entire year. My counterpart, a VN colonel and his staff were regular Vietnamese - the enlisted troops in the Kontum compound were yards. The Col. commanded 4 Ranger Bns - one in each of four border camps along the tri border area, Laos, Cambodia and S. VN. Like the Kontum arrangement, each battalion had regular Vietnamese officers and all troops were yards.

I can't say enough about the goodness of these people. The Vietnamese treated them with contempt and considered them savages. We Americans loved them and thought they were the greatest and they responded in kind. There are many stories of how they fought to the death to save US troops.

On several occasions I was honored to have been invited to share in a unique ritual - drinking 'sticks' of rice wine. I'll try to explain. Four or five of us would sit on the ground or floor around an earthen ware crock pot filled to the brim with their brew. The round pot was about two or two and a half ft. tall, larger in the middle but with the top having a diameter of about 6 inches. A stick, similar to a fiddle stick was laid across the top and resting along the top of the fluid. Midway along the stick was another short (maybe one inch) stick attached perpendicular to its longer one and going down into the brew. A flexible straw like tube reached to the bottom of the pot where the most potent brew settled. Each person in turn would drink a 'stick' - you guessed it - an amount that would decrease the level of the brew to the bottom of the short stick. Before passing the straw to the next person, one of the lovely yard ladies (sometimes topless depending on the dress customs of a particular tribe) would refill the pot to the absolute top. The ladies would also bring around certain delicacies - none of us ever had any idea what we were eating and knew enough to not ask. After two or three sticks no one gave a rat's ass - by the way, that's probably what we were eating.

After the first such ritual, even though I knew better, I could never refuse to accept other invitations. It was an honor to have been asked.

Johnny was an unusual yard in Kontum. He was large for a yard - about my size - a nice looking man with freckles and a grin always on his face. I brought him a blue denim jacket on my return from R & R. After that I don't recall ever seeing him without it on.

I've heard that many yards have made it to the states and settled. If you ever have the good fortune to meet one, please mention that most all of us who served in VN love them. Jon

~ Memories of Martha Raye ~

At my 2nd VN tour duty station Kontum, received a message one day that a VIP was on final approach to my helipad. Expecting some General, I began thinking of how to brief and give him a tour of the compound. You can imagine my surprise to see Martha Raye jump off the Huey. She wore fatigues with LTC insignia, as she was a reserve LTC in the nurse corps.

She arrived unannounced because she was pissed off at my boss down in Pleiku. There had been a big party/show the night before and my (LTC) boss announced that Martha Raye was a guest and if anyone got drunk and acted inappropriately he would severely punish and transfer him out of the unit. Sure enough some Sgt. got himself in trouble. In the show there was some young lady who stripped down to nothing (which wasn't uncommon in VN) and this drunk NCO laid down on the floor on his back with his head on the stage (which was only a few inches above the floor) and yelled 'Sit on me, baby'. He was helped back to his seat and after all the laughing, hootin' and yelling, the show continued. The next morning Martha tried to talk my boss out of taking any action against the NCO but he was adamant. Even though she was scheduled to stay there and take flights out to the border camps nearest Pleiku, she told her Lt. pilot to crank it up, she wasn't staying around that son of a bitch another day.

She ended up staying with us in Kontum for almost two weeks. Needless to say, we had a hell of a time. She loved to play poker and could put more than a little vodka away. One night after an extended poker game with several drinks and not much food, we sat outside talking and enjoying the cool night air. All at once she keeled over - out like a light. I carried her to her room and made sure she was OK before leaving. She was fine the next morning and thanked me for putting her in her room. She called me her tall Georgia pine.

We received rocket attacks a couple of times while she was there, but she would calmly put on a helmet and go with us to a sand bagged bunker. We had a couple of 81mm mortar ammo boxes in that bunker and she almost had a heart attack until we showed her the contents did not include the ammo.

I had a Huey dedicated for my 4 border camps every other day. On most days when I had a chopper she would take trips out and visit with my advisors. I remember that she would write on the plywood walls with a black marker, 'Love you, Col. Maggie'. She was quite a lady. Jon


 

Back to Top