A U.S. Soldier Recalls Vietnam War Battle Experiences

U.S. veteran Caesar Smith gives a first hand account of the fighting conditions in Vietnam. Caesar Smith was a career military officer who served two tours in Vietnam. In 1964, he was a U.S. advisor to South Vietnamese troops. This segment is from Iowa Experience: Vietnam, a panel discussion recorded at Iowa PBS in Johnston, IA on September 10, 2017.


Transcript

Caesar Smith: But you've got to realize you're fighting in 102, 103 degree weather. It's always hot. You're getting off a helicopter in a clearing that may be 100 yard clearing before you hit the tree line, it may be 50 yard clearing before you hit the tree line. But you've got to realize going in you're already nervous, upset, you're shaking like you've got Parkinson's because you're getting ready to get off a plane and then enemy might be right in that tree line and is going to shoot at you and you don't know. So your adrenaline is up and you're already sweating, you've got a 70 pound bag on your back, about 10 canteens of water you want to carry with you, your weapon and ammunition. You hop off the helicopter, sometimes they land it, sometimes it hovers, you jump off and you start running. Now you're running to the tree line in the heat. Now, fortunately if they're not shooting at you, you get to that tree line but then you've still got to keep moving. So all that alone, we haven't even talked about nobody shooting at you, we're just talking about getting off a helicopter and getting to the woods. Then if you get into a firefight down in there at that particular time as Dan was saying then it's, well you said it was organized chaos, I think at times it was just chaos. I had a radio man talking to the artillery to bring in artillery fire and talking to gunships to bring in fire from helicopters, anybody that could shoot you're trying to get to shoot at the enemy wherever they were located, trying to get the fire off of you. Sometimes it was so heavy you stayed there and fought but you weren't moving forward. And of course your commander, mine was Colonel Bolling and I was the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne. I wasn't a Marine but I was airborne.

(applause)

Caesar Smith: Our commander, Colonel Bolling, General Bolling at the time was in the helicopter way up there, his call sign was Knight Rider, mine was Apache 6. Apache 6, this is Knight Rider, how's it going? Now I'm thinking, I'm down here ducking and trying to talk to somebody about getting out of this fight and I've got a general up there asking me how's it going. But anyway, there's no way really to describe, you're contacting your platoons. If they're under fire how many casualties do they have? How many wounded do they got? Anybody killed? And if anybody dies you can't get them out during that fight, if they're wounded the medical ships will always come in to get a wounded but they're not going to sacrifice themselves if the person is already dead. They're going to wait until you get out of there. One time we had to carry --

Dean Borg, Moderator: It's alright, it's okay. Dan, why don't you take over here for a minute.

Dan Gannon, Marine Corps veteran during Vietnam War: He said it all.

Caesar Smith: We had to carry three days to get out.