F Ret. Air Force. I hope it receives a wide readership for years to come — it should. Your objectivity. Heroism was present, and outstanding leadership, but so was poor performance and failed leadership. The good and the bad existed at low levels and high, generals and privates alike won accolades and deserved condemnation.
That you describe it all makes this book stick out from others. If any future student of the Vietnam War wants to know why we fought for so long at such cost with such meager results, he must start with your book. Palmer, U. Military Academy, author of Summons of the Trumpet: U. It brought back many memories of my own time in Vietnam as an infantry battalion S3 — memories that I had long since forgotten The candor in this book is what I would expect from the Jim SheltonI knew when we served together as lieutenants in the 82nd Airborne Division Johnson Jr.
You did a great job Your description of infantry operationsin jungle terrain was most accurate, and I could almost smell the foliage Your discussion of foxhole strength at company Ievel was on target. We met with the village chief and elders and drank hot tea while the Major conversed with our hosts through our interpreter SSgt Cong.
We spent a good couple of hours with an amiable exchange of pleasantries and about what we could do to help the village. We then set a date about 10 days away when we would return with the first gesture of help consisting of school supplies. We would bring paper, pencils, notebooks, crayons and the like. They were very appreciative and all went well as we bade them goodbye in the traditional manner of hands clasped while bowing.
With the date set for the 20th of August, we forgot about the village until the day before when we accumulated all the supplies we were going to take. We had done this type of mission many times and were looking forward to meeting with these people again.
In The News - Andrew Wittman
Major Risner invited them to come along. It was a good idea as Captain Greenwold was slated to replace Major Risner when he went home. There had been five of us scheduled to go on this mission but we now had eight extra members from We told them not to bring helmets or flak jackets, just their normal weapons they were issued.
We traveled in 4 or 5 vehicles back to the same area where we had parked our vehicles previously before hiking west to the village. We left the vehicles with the school supplies under our arms and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The main body of our group headed towards the village with Cpl Doug McKillips and myself bringing up the rear.
We had hiked almost a kilometer up and down a couple of small hills when I heard Major Risner conversing with Captain Greenwold about something. I asked him if he wanted Cpl McKillips or me to go with him. He said it wasn't necessary that he would wait by his jeep until Major Nourse showed up. He didn't want us to be late for our meeting and said that he and Major Nourse would join us within a few minutes and he left disappearing over the next hill. As the group started to move on, I hailed Captain Greenwold and told him that I thought Doug and I should remain behind a few minutes until the two Majors returned.
He agreed and the rest of the Group continued on out of sight. Doug and I engaged in some small talk for the next 15 minutes or so. I was starting to get concerned when after another 15 minutes went by and no one showed up. I told Doug to wait where we were at that I was going to check on the two Majors. I asked a couple of villagers, both old men, if they had seen an American Major.
Me: "Thieuta Nguoi My o'dau? Both shook their heads. I then saw a young girl whom I approached and found that she spoke passable English. She told me she thought she had seen the Major hitchhiking back towards the base. Now I was getting worried. The Major wouldn't hitchhike when he had a perfectly good jeep to drive. And where was Major Nourse? I immediately got in my vehicle and drove less than a click up the road to Ly Tin and the Army advisory unit. To my dismay I found Major Nourse. I told him what had happened and he told me he had forgotten about meeting Major Risner.
Now I was more worried. I told him I was going back to get the main group and he told me he and his unit would meet us at our vehicles. I drove back to the other vehicles, jumped out and ran as fast as I could back to Doug who I knew had to be worried himself. Being the good Marine that he was, he had not gone anywhere until I returned. I quickly told him what I had discovered and told him to quickly find the main group and meet me back at our vehicles. I then ran all the way back to the MSR and there I saw Major Nourse and about a dozen men, half of which were Vietnamese Popular Forces fanned out canvassing all of the huts in the area.
The PFs reported back that either the villagers had not seen the Major or had related different stories about seeing him leave with another American soldier or hitchhiking back to base. Now I was scared. Not for me but for Major Risner. Our main group finally made it back to me running all the way. It seemed like an hour but was probably half that. Again Major Nourse and I related all we knew. Captain Greenwold made the decision that we would return to base, inform our command and then return for a full-fledged search. Major Nourse said that he would leave some of his men where we were at now, return to Ly Tin and gather all the Vietnamese forces he had and then meet us again at the same spot.
As we returned through the main gate I briefed the Americal Division MP on duty of our situation so they could pass the word to have everyone on the lookout for Major Risner. It seemed like forever before we arrived at our office. While Captain Greenwold was making the appropriate calls, we all geared up from the group guard with Ms, fragmentary and smoke grenades and extra bandoliers of ammunition. This time we had combat helmets, flak jackets, bayonets, etc. We quickly drove back to our rendezvous point and found that the Popular Forces had already begun their search and rescue mission heading west towards the mountains.
Armed to the teeth, we joined up with the other members of the Army Advisory Unit and began our own search of the area around us sweeping in a clockwise arc up to a kilometer away. The villagers who had previously seen little or no military presence this close to their huts ignored us.
That really pissed me off. They knew something had happened but weren't talking. By dusk we had to quit. SSgt Cong was visibly weeping and it was all I could do to keep from joining him. By dark the next day, the PFs called off their search. It was my darkest moment to date. The next two days we went about the motions of trying to work. Initially we talked about all kinds of scenarios about what could have happened to Major Risner but none of them had good endings. Word had spread throughout the base.
I don't think any of us slept. We went back and forth on Highway One in both directions a few times during daylight hours, but we knew the chance of seeing him was remote. If we did sleep at night we nodded off for a brief time sitting at our desks. We were all hoping for a miracle. The morning of the third day after he was missing, Major Tom Durham, a close friend of Major Risner's, came into our office with a couple of cardboard boxes and very somberly went to the Major's desk and started packing the contents of his desk.
He never said a word, nor did anyone in the office, as we all knew what he was doing. I broke the silence and asked him what would happen now. He told me that after making an inventory of Major Risner's personal effects, an official message would be sent to Headquarters, Marine Corps, Washington, DC listing Major Risner as missing in action. He said that a Marine Officer and a Navy Chaplain informing them of his status would then deliver a formal letter in person to Major Risner's family.
I couldn't hold back the tears and I left the office area and went to my living quarters. After he left we were all in the office either standing around or sitting at our desks not saying a word. We were all left to our own thoughts. Around noontime the phone rang and Dick Petterson answered it.
Dick: "Say that again. You saw what? We all gathered around Dick. The south gate was rarely used except by heavy equipment like earth movers, etc. We couldn't believe it. When Major Risner got out of the jeep we were all whooping and cheering. He walked up to us with a big grin on his face and said, "It sure is good to see you guys! I was so glad to see him when he got out of that jeep that I didn't pause to reflect at the time what he looked like.
A Combat History of the U.S. Marines from Inception to the Halls of Montezuma
He had no hat or shirt and his trousers were cutoff above the knees and his web belt was missing. He was wearing his boots without socks or shoelaces. His chest, back, arms and legs were covered with big red welts. He had rings around his eyes and his face and the top of his head was covered with scratches. His wrists looked like they had been rubbed raw almost to the bone. He had bruises all over. After a couple of hours, Dick called sickbay and talked to the Doctor who had treated Major Risner.
He told Dick that the Major had been severely beaten and prodded presumably with bamboo sticks. He was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. The doctor said that he was allowing our S-2 intelligence to debrief him for only a short time and then he told the Major that he was going to admit him as an inpatient.
The doctor then explained that the Major politely declined his invitation to stay in the dispensary as he was going to go back to his quarters. The doctor said that he agreed only if Major Risner would take a shot sedative. Major Risner agreed and the doctor told Dick that because of the Major's size and condition he gave him a triple dose of sedative to make sure he slept and the Group XO escorted the Major back to his quarters. That night we had a mini celebration. We wanted to have the main celebration with the Major when he was well.
We had just brought out the wine when Charlie decided to join us in the celebration. After the first rocket landed with that distinctive "crack! Dick had remarked that this one had sounded close. We didn't hear anything for another minute, so Dick and I looked over the top and saw two red streaks leaving the tubes about 5 clicks away followed by the usual "thump! Dick grabbed my jacket as he was going down and we both heard loud cracks this time. We looked up in time to see the dust and sand settling about meters in front of us. Off we went when another rocket landed about the same place as the other two.
Another went off by the time we made it to the command bunker. The sirens were still going and everyone was assuming their defensive positions.
I was on the switchboard talking to one of our spotters in one of the towers when Major Risner walked in and promptly asked "What's the situation Gunny Petterson? This man never failed to amaze me. After all the welcome backs were given, Dick brought him up to date on the situation. The rockets had stopped, but we got a call from the group guard on our southern perimeter that trip flares had gone off in the wire barbed wire but our guys were blinded by our own perimeter lights that were supposed to be cut-off whenever we were under attack. It not only blinded our guys but the lights exposed their positions no matter where they moved as there were no other lights turned on.
The lights were supposed to be switched off automatically at Chu Lai Defense Command whenever we were under attack. He explained the situation in rather terse language. Apparently the Colonel didn't appreciate this junior officer's attitude and said so. Major Risner's next statement was something to the effect that if he the Colonel didn't cut the lights immediately, Major Risner himself would come to CLDC and put out those lights along with the Colonel's running lights. The lights were extinguished soon after.
We all would have cheered again, but no one dared, as we knew Major Risner was serious. Afterwards, he did have a grin on his face as we all did. The next day about Major Risner returned to his office. We were all concerned about him assuming his duties again so rapidly. But no one at the Group Headquarters was going to question his decision and neither would we. He called the XO and from the conversation they had a mild disagreement about what would happen next. Our S-2 as well as Americal Division G-2 wanted to debrief him as soon as possible. Also reports had to be made to all the command levels above us, up to and including Headquarters, United States Marine Corps.
Additionally, Stars and Stripes, our official newspaper for the military, had already caught wind of the story and they wanted details. Much to the displeasure of many, I'm sure, Major Risner told the Group XO that he had one more thing to do before he would subjugate himself to any more debriefings or medical checks.
I don't know what was said on the other end, but Major Risner replied "Thank you, sir, I appreciate it," and he hung up the phone. Looking at all of us, he smiled and asked what we were looking at. We loaded up the same as we did on every other mission and went right back to the place where we had lost him.
When we arrived he began to tell us some of what had happened. When Major Risner had left us and arrived at where our vehicles were parked, Major Nourse was not there. Risner was going to drive his jeep to find Major Nourse then realized he didn't have the keys. So he started walking in the direction of Ly Tin District Headquarters. He had only walked a few meters when a young Vietnamese girl whom he took to be 7 to 9 years old ran up to him.
He was surprised to see that it was Phan Thi Lan, one of the girls he had sponsored for a scholarship under the General Walt Scholarship Program. She didn't seem surprised to see him and spoke to him excitedly in English. She told him there was an accident on the railroad tracks further up the road. Without thinking, Major Risner ran about meters up the tracks and found a man laying face down in a ditch.
A Combat History of the U.S. Marines from Inception to the Halls of Montezuma
He noticed a number of people standing above him from the ditch as well as 4 ARVN soldiers who were standing around the ditch. As he began to kneel down to inspect the man's condition, the man suddenly rolled over on his back pointing a carbine directly up at Major Risner. He also felt a pistol placed at the back of his head. As he instinctively tried to move he was pistol whipped, disarmed and a gunnysack was thrown over his head. He was taken up the hill from the ditch he had been in and pushed onto his stomach in what he believed to be a truck. They bound his wrists individually and then tied them together about 2 to 3 inches apart in front of him and tied the gunnysack around his neck.
Though dazed and in shock, Major Risner realized what was happening and was already trying to gather his senses, paying attention to where they were going in case he got a chance to escape. He felt like there were 4 individuals in the back of the truck and possibly 2 in the front. The ones in the rear placed their feet and rifles on the Major's back. The truck sped off and after two minutes or so crossed a bridge and then proceeded for another 3 minutes or so when the road became rough.
About 5 minutes later, the truck turned right and proceeded down a steep incline. The truck continued to move up and down steep inclines for another 10 or 15 minutes before stopping. He laid in the back of the truck for a couple of minutes before they let the tail gate down and they pushed his body out the back of the truck where he slumped to the ground. As he tried to sit up straight a rifle butt was thrust into his chest knocking him back to lying position. This brought a kick to his side. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. Notify me. Description In the nearly seven decades following World War II, the heroes of the Allied Forces have been rendered ageless through portrayals transforming their overseas triumphs into household tales.
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