A U.S. Platoon Leader Remembers Vietnam

Dan Gannon is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He spent more than 300 days in combat, rising to the rank of Captain before leaving the military. In this segment from Iowa Experience: Vietnam, he provides a first hand account of the fighting conditions during the Vietnam war. The panel discussion was recorded at Iowa PBS in Johnston, IA on September 10, 2017.


Dan Gannon: It's okay, fella. Just to talk about the controlled chaos and the whole issue of the fire fight, there's so many things going on. For example, I was a platoon leader, I wasn't a company commander that Caesar was, so I was answering to a company commander and my platoon had anywhere from 40, 30 up to about 50 depending on how many casualties. And in a firefight I never fired a weapon. And someone said, well you never fired a weapon? Well, if I was firing a weapon I wasn't doing my job. Platoon leader it's not their job to fire a weapon. My principle weapon was a .45. Did I carry an M16 once in a while? Yes, if we were on small fire team ambush sites. But your job is to control it. So you've got three squad leaders in a platoon, they've each got radios, you've got a company commander that is talking to you, do you need close air support or do you need artillery and all this stuff is planned. I talk about chaos and planned, when you go out on a patrol and you're going to make contact you have taken the time ahead of time to go to the artillery, to go to the air and you pre-plan on call targets so you're pretty much set up to run the battle. Now, you have to be able to adjust. But not only you're talking to the company commander, you're talking to your squad leaders, you're talking to a medivac helicopter coming in, you might be talking to a cobra gunship that is above you. All this stuff is going on at once and you have to be able to control it and that’s where I call it controlled chaos. But it's very orchestrated, it runs well, not always come out with the same result but that's the life of the platoon leader in combat.