Monday September 29. Flashback 1962 Vietnam.

Written by Jack van Ommen on September 29th, 2014

I started reading the book that Charlie Johnson brought to my attention  and discovered that what I reported in my forelast blog about the death of Richard Ellis needs a correction. His death was not an accident he was shot by VC fire while dropping a load of South Vietnamese soldiers into the first battle at Ap Bac in October 1962. Our company damaged a number of our twin rotor H-21 “Shawnee” helicopters in that first Ap Bac battle.  Knight blames Colonel John Paul Vann for the losses and casualties suffered. Neil Sheehan paints a very different picture of Colonel Vann, in his book “A bright shining lie”, for which he won a Pulitzer price.  Sheehan did not come to Vietnam until 1963 and by then Knight and practically my entire company had already rotated back to the U.S. I could have returned also by November 1962 for my one year Vietnam stint but elected to serve out my two year draft in Vietnam. I was still in Vietnam when the first big battle of the Vietnam war was fought, again in Ap Bac. This was one of the first times the VC did not hit and run. They stood their ground and again Colonel Vann took charge. We lost three Americans, five helicopters and the Vietnamese army lost from 80 to 100 men in that infamous battle. The press listened to colonel Vann because he was very critical of the US and Vietnamese handling of the counter insurgency. And Sheehan probably had little or no access in 1963 to people like Knight to hear what they thought of this man. It is also highly unlikely that  Knight writes: “We in the 57 th also knew Vann in 1962 and we were significantly less impressed with him than were the reporters. There were several reasons for this. He was a small blond man with a high pitched, grating, petulantly demanding voice who, in spite of his slight appearance, was an over-confident, hyper-acting, and arrogant individual. He had a very high opinion of himself. He let us know that he had a superior understanding of the war; that his tactical expertise was perfect and that he could fly a helicopter better than any of us. …” and he goes on explaining the problems they always had with Vann. This battle took place in the first week of January 1963. My service ended January 21st. Everyone in the company had been up in a helicopter at one time but I hardly ever set foot out of my supply cubicle. So, I was granted a ride over the Tan Son Nhut airport. What stays etched in my vision is the bright yellow sand holes of fresh dug graves for the casualties of the Ap Bac battle. Douce and a half trucks were bringing the coffins in.

It rained most of the day but I got to take a break to the Tides Tavern to meet Erik Larsen who with his father in 1973 sailed the “Groote Beer” from Newport Beach to San Francisco for Stuart Anderson, the new owner. Erik was 19 at the time. Erik owns a boat yard in Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon Island. He showed me his 40 foot W.R.Cedar planked 1962 power boat with which he came to the Tides.


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