The North Wall, Canada's Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
A significant number of Canadians fought for US forces in Vietnam, and over 100 gave their lives, even though Canada as a nation did not participate. These men joined the American military, either voluntarily or through the draft, and they fought with great valor and distinction, as Canadian military men always have. It took far longer for the Government of Canada to recognize their service and sacrifice than it did the US government, and it is arguable to this day how many Canadians respect what they did. This is about a memorial finally erected in Windsor, Ontario in 1995 to honor their service. More important, this is about some of those Canadians who fought in Vietnam, our salute to brothers in war.
By Ed Marek, editor
July 5, 2008 updated with photo of Ken Foran, May 29, 2011
The North Wall, the Canadian Vietnam Memorial, Assumption Park, Windsor, Ontario. Presented by The North Wall.
I was on my way to the Vietnam War in 1972. I was going to be flying, so I had to go to three survival schools. Basic Survival School was at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington. Among other things, they took us to the Rockies and had us escape and evade and live off the land for a few days. We went by bus, so I'm not sure where they took us, but believe it was to northern Idaho.
All I know is we walked, and walked, and climbed and climbed hour after hour, all day long, all the while having to move slowly and carefully, following a specific route by compass, so as not to be ambushed or cross the paths of the enemy, our instructors. Every time we messed up, well, lots of threats and broken egos.
At some point late in the game, on Day 2 or maybe Day 3, our instructor, a buck sergeant, told us to take a break, and sit down for a bit. We were all beat. The good news is it was summer; the bad news is we sweat like hogs. In any event, our instructor told us all to look out yonder, to the north. He asked, "Do you gentlemen see those snow covered mountains?" We all nodded yes. They were magnificent, beautiful. The day was sunny and clear as a bell, we were high enough that a nice breeze blew in our filthy faces and on or sweat drenched uniforms, and one could have thought he were in Heaven even though feeling like on the verge of hell.
Then he asked, "Do you gentlemen know where those are located?" That was rhetorical. He said, "Gentlemen, that is Canada. If any of you want out of this, all you have to do is get up and walk over there." Each one of us in our group, perhaps of ten officers, now stared at those mountains with a new fresh interest. We had already been through POW training, and none of us liked that too much, so each one of us stared a long time at those Canadian Rockies. Each of us pondered the idea, and then decided Canada was too far away. None of us took up the challenge, each resigned to take on the next slate of challenges our instructor would confront us with. Once he saw there were no takers, he asked us to get up and on the move, and that we did. We had our chance. The truth is, none of us could have made that trek. We were having a hard enough time humping through Idaho. It seemed easier to go to war than to walk that great distance!
Parade of 5,000 including US draft dodgers and deserters in Toronto, Ontario, a video grab from a CBC special, "We refused to go: The antiwar movement in Canada and the US," broadcast on October 23, 1967.
You will recall that Canada did not participate in the Vietnam War, a national decision. But, as though to throw mud in our faces, Canada welcomed American draft dodgers and deserters, often with the support of Americans in the Congress and elsewhere. I can recall how much I despised those deserters and dodgers --- they called themselves war resistors --- and how angry I was at Canada. Water over the dam, maybe.
I knew from my school days that many Americans had joined the Canadian and British military in the early days of WWII to get in the fight while the politicians in the US were wringing their hands hoping to stay out of it. So, some 36 years after I went to the Indochina War, the thought occurred to me that Canadians probably joined the US military during the Vietnam War. How right I was, and how embarrassed I was that it took me so long to figure this out, even think about. So I began my research.
Quite quickly I came across what proud Canadians call "The North Wall." I want to talk about that wall a bit, and then talk about some of those from Canada who served and sacrificed in the US forces during the Indochina War.
I might remark at the outset that finding out about them is no easy chore. They faced far more disrespect from their countrymen than we did from ours in the US. It has only been since 2005 that the Government of Canada has given them any recognition at all. This is tragic.
But I'm not going to go into any of that. I am also not going to challenge the Canadian decisions made during that war. Instead I am going to join with all those who wish to pay our respects to the Canadians who fought with us in Indochina. Their bravery and courage rank them as heroes whom Canadians can honor and admire --- Thank you for your service and sacrifice. Thank your families and friends for theirs.
he North Wall Memorial, Assumption Park, Windsor, Ontario. Presented by Canadians In Vietnam.
The North Wall project was organized by a group of Vietnam veterans in Michigan, the Michigan Association of Concerned Veterans, M.A.C.V. This group wanted the Canadians recognized who fought there. The Canadian government would not get involved in the project.
Confirming my long held theory that federal governments are obstructionists, and local governments get it done, Windsor, Ontario Mayor Michael D. Hurst, and the City Council, stepped forward and allocated a place for the monument at Assumption Park, overlooking the Detroit River connecting Lake Huron with Lake Erie, which is where it stands today. They did that in April and May 1995. Incredibly, the wall was dedicated on July 2, 1995. Mayor Hurst is said to have supported the memorial unconditionally, and that he championed Canadian and US Vietnam Vets start to finish. Bravo to you, Mr. Mayor.
You can visit The North Wall web site to learn how much work and time it took Canadian Vietnam Veterans to get this North Wall built. They started in 1986 and got the job done in 1995. Another nice history of the work to get this memorial up and going is at "History of the Wall."
This photo was taken on dedication day, toward the end of the day, as the sun was setting. It is a remarkable photo, showing the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor with Detroit as a reflection on the black marble of the wall. This photo, and the next, are courtesy of Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial Photo Gallery.
I must say this stone at the base of the memorial brings a tear to my eyes. It has enshrined the Purple Heart awarded to Cpl. Larry G. Semeniuk, 101st Airborne, killed in action in January 1968, as a means to reflect honor on all those who fought. We will talk more about Semeniuk in a moment. Should you have trouble reading the inscription, this is what it says:
"Here within this memorial is a symbol that America's first President George Washington Fostered. 'The Purple Heart Medal.' Whether they wore the Maple Leaf of Canada or the Stars and Stripes of the United States, these memorialized veterans are heroes believing that freedom knows no borders, and must be defended whenever it is challenged."
Canadian vets had a most difficult time gaining recognition. It's not that they were chasing money or welfare handouts; they simply wanted to be recognized for their service and sacrifice. Regardless of what Canadians thought about that war, the historical fact was and is that Canadians fought there, were wounded there, died there, and like their American counterparts, some suffer to this day because of the trauma of that war. Like was true in the US, these brave warriors were not welcomed home until after many years. And it took their decision to stand tall and come out of their cocoons to announce their pride in service and share with their brothers in arms their memories and thoughts. The Canadians took a lot longer to respond than did the Americans. But at long last, the Canadian government formally recognized these veterans in 2005. Dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington occurred in 1982.
I do not have an exact figure on how many Canadians joined the US military during the Vietnam War. It turns out there is lots of controversy about the number, in part because it is so hard to identify them, with some living in Canada and crossing into the US to join, some moving with their families to the US and thence drafted with American addresses, and obstacles within Canada about trying hard to tally a good number.
The oft used figure is somewhere between 30,000 - 40,000 or so. Fred Gaffen, the chief historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, has suggested that 12,000 served in Vietnam. Others put the number in the thousands, ranging from 2,500 to 5,000. The National Dusters, Quads & Searchlights Association has an interesting paper on the subject by Richard Shand, entitled, "Anonymous Warriors."
Whatever the case, Gaffen has said that "a significant number of Canadians crossed the border to fight in the Vietnam War," and I'll go with that though the Government of Canada should work to harden up an accurate number. It has statistics for everything else.
Gaffen also made this comment:
"Many Canadians ... were motivated by a desire to fight Communism. You have to see it as a product of the times."
The US has identified 103 as known Canadians who died in the war. Their names are inscribed both on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington and on The North Wall in Windsor. I might remark here that the American government recognized Canadian war dead long before the Canadian government, not something about which Ottawa can be proud. That said, I have also seen a number 113 for the number of Canadians who died, with seven more listed as missing in action. Perhaps 1,000 were wounded.
Let's take a look at some of our Canadian Brothers.
CBC reported in February 1966 that a man from Toronto, Don Echlin, asked the Canadian government for approval to recruit 1,200 Canadian volunteers to fight in Vietnam. CBC's Tim Ralfe interviewed him that same month. In this interview, Echlin said that the US endeavor in Vietnam had to be maintained, and expressed concerns that the US would withdraw from the world and become isolationist and cause the free world to disintegrate should the war go badly. He criticized the Canadian government for hiding behind political rhetoric to avoid public criticism over the shedding of Canadian blood in Vietnam. He said that in discussions at the time with the American Consulate in Toronto, he had the feeling that the US would support bringing in Echlin's recruits as its own unit and supply it and train it, but would first need the approval of the Canadian government. To my knowledge, Echlin's project never went forward.
As it turned out, Echlin's recruiting didn't have to occur. Canadians stepped forward themselves, or, while living in the US, decided against returning home, permitted themselves to be drafted, and served with distinction. I will remark, however, how important Echlin's idea of creating a Canadian unit is to Canada's history. It dates back at least to WWI, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, when the British agreed to the formation of an all-Canadian corps to move out as the thrust of the attack with British formations guarding the Canadians' flanks. We've done a story on this, "The birth of a nation, the Canadian Corps captures Vimy Ridge." This event formed the foundation for the emergence of Canada as a sovereign state.
This is a most interesting photo presented by Vets With a Mission. It shows the Canadian flag flying at Khe Sanh in February 1968, during Tet, and it shows Cpl. Ken Foran, USMC, a Canadian.
Another photo of Cpl Ken Foran, USMC, provided by Ken, also taken by the famous combat photojournalist David Douglas Duncan. Foran was from Marathon, Ontario, joined the US Marines in 1965, and served in Vietnam from July 1967-August 1968.
He was a helicopter mechanic and flew as a machine gunner with HMM-164 (CH-46s) and HMM-363 (UH-34s). He received a single mission Air Medal for heroic achievement during an emergency extraction of Green Berets in the Ashau Valley on February 29, 1968. His pilots hovered in a difficult position because of the terrain, they came under intense fire, and while the crew chief operated the hoist for the Green Berets on the ground, Foran operated the two .50 cal machine guns aboard his CH-46, moving from the gun on one side to the gun on the other, laying down heavy suppressive fire for some 20 minutes despite the hostile fire hitting his chopper. Once all souls were aboard and his skipper pulled out of the area, he administered first aid. His unit also received the Presidential Unit Citation for service at Khe Sanh during Tet, from January 20 - April 1, 1968.
I want to say this right now. The Marines held Khe Sanh. They defeated the enemy at Khe Sanh. They caused enormous enemy losses, in terms of troops and supplies. They caused the enemy to have to fall back and delay a long planned full invasion of the South. Don't let anyone tell you or even infer that Khe Sanh was our Dien Bien Phu. Poppycock. Our military whooped up on the enemy big time. The same holds true for Tet 68. We defeated the enemy in every quarter, throughout South Vietnam. Once again, enemy objectives failed and they had to drop back to square one. These are facts, documented facts.
He would later write a book, Beyond the Medal: A Journey from Their Heart to Yours.
I wish to mention the book, Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces, From the Civil War to the Gulf, by Fred Gaffen. I've learned about several Canadian vets from this book.
The enemy's intent was to strike military and civilian command and control centers throughout the RVN and spark a general uprising among the people.
While manning a machine gun at night, two enemy approached within six feet of his position, Semeniuk opened fire, wounding one enemy. The wounded enemy returned fire, spraying the area. Semeniuk sat up to improve his position, and was hit in the chest. Just prior to succumbing to his wound, he fired at the enemy soldier and killed him. That enemy was the battalion commander. Semeniuk received the Silver Star (posthumous) and was promoted to corporal. Four days prior to this event, he saved a drowning US Army lieutenant. By the time he grabbed the lieutenant and got to the bank, they had floated 300 ft. down river.
SP4 John Austin Anderson, USA, Hamilton, Ontario, moved to Williamsville, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, with his family and appears to have been drafted. He was a tactical wire operations specialist with a communications platoon of the Hq Co., 4-9 Infantry, 25th Division "Tropic Lightning."
Nui Ba Den, "Black Virgin Mountain, RVN. Presented by the 25th Aviation Battalion.
He was with about 140 troops at a signal relay station atop Nui Ba Den, "Black Virgin Mountain," a 3,000 ft. granite mountain filled with caves in Tay Ninh Province, enough caves to hold a battalion of enemy. On May 13, 1968, the enemy attacked the relay station, killing at least 21 US Army soldiers. His remains were recovered and he was buried in St. Catharines, Ontario, following full US military honors in Williamsville. He received the Purple Heart (posthumous), which now sits at the base of the North Wall. Ed Taratnic, his cousin, has written a detailed account of the battle which we commend to you.
US Army Radio Relay and Intercept Station, Nui Ba Den. Presented by the 25th Aviation Battalion.
Nui Ba Den had been controlled by the Japanese during WWII, the French, then the Viet Minh who, along with the North Vietnamese, defeated the French, and was captured by the US Army Special Forces Third Mobile Strike Force in a helicopter assault in May 1964. The 25th Infantry "Tropic Lightning" Division took control in 1967and set up a defense group to protect the radio site. The radio relayers used the callsign "Lonely Summit." The mountain was surrounded by plains, mostly controlled by the enemy. The defensive force consisted of US Special Forces and native South Vietnam fighters. At the time, this was a covert listening post as well as a radio relay station. The listening post was run by the Army Security Agency (ASA), a cryptologic element of the National Security Agency (NSA). The unit located there was known as the Nui Ba Den Provisional Company. It was a critical relay station to move message traffic between units on the ground in the field in battle.
Lt. John C. Burns, writing "This is a Lonely Summit," described it this way:
"Camp Nui Ba Den, as the most optimistic of its inhabitants would call it, is the biggest, ugliest, most unforgiving and uninhabitable pile of rocks in Vietnam. There isn't enough level land on the whole position to bounce a basketball."
He added that when one of the men operated the retransmission station there, he wasn't just working for the 25th Division, he was the 25th Division, its voice and its most critical courier. Lt. Burns gives an example of a typical retransmission from "Lonely Summit:"
"Dusty Squaw, this is Lonely Summit. Roger I read: xray tango three four seven six niner four, alfa papa charlie detonated alfa tango mine. Bravo four slash two three requests victor tango romeo. Negative contact, negative casualties. Over."
This was a message from an Armored Personnel Carrier in distress and in need of help. The relay goes to Tay Ninh Base Camp with the call for help.
On May 13, 1968, the enemy opened up. The site was attacked at night with 82 mm mortars and rocket propelled grenades (RPG). An intense battle raged. The enemy was very effective infiltrating and destroying bunkers, huts, and communications facilities.
AC-47 gunship firing at enemy. Presented by Medal of Honor.com
After about two hours, a Light Fire Team (LFT) and AC-47 "Spooky" gunship arrived along with flare ships. The LFT directed intensive artillery fire and a second AC-47 arrived on station. Fog set in over the top of the mountain, the gunships found it hard to locate targets, they began receiving heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire, but they remained on station firing as best as they could. They stayed until they ran out of ammo, and were replaced by another gunship. The weather finally forced them out.
By early morning, the enemy had taken the site, spent time killing wounded soldiers, and then departed. The survivors reclaimed the helicopter pad, swept the area searching for enemy, searched for booby traps, and gathered the dead and wounded. Medevac helicopters arrived at first light. They took fire but completed their missions nonetheless. Special Forces arrived and reestablished the communications relay functions.
It is believed two Americans were captured by the enemy.
OH-6A Cayuse Light Observation Helicopter. Presented by the US Army.
WO1 Ian McIntosh, USA, St. Catharine's, Ontario, A/2-17 Air Cavalry, 101 Airborne. On November 24, 1970, WO1 McIntosh was on an initial orientation as co-pilot aboard an OH-6A Cayuse Light Observation Helicopter, fondly known as "Loach." These aircraft frequently flew as part of "Pink Teams," paired up with one or more AH-1G Cobra attack helicopters.
This is a most interesting photo, from the cover of the March 15, 1971 edition of Newsweek. It shows a Pink Team, the OH-6A on the left, the Cobra gun ship on the right. This happens to be a photo of helicopters and men from McIntosh's outfit. Please note the OH-6 crew on the left. The two pilots are really crammed in there. Presented by Alpha Troop Alumni.
The Loach, often called the "White Bird," or "Tadpole," or "Eyes with Teeth," would fly low, searching for targets, often deliberately seeking to draw their fire, after which the Loach crew would mark the target and the Cobra, known as the "Red Bird" and the "Snake," would scream in and attack. The Pink Teams were fondly known to the troops on the ground as "tadpoles and snakes." Together, they would provide ground forces with aerial fire support, especially useful where ground-based artillery just couldn't get at the target or couldn't get a precise enough location on the target, or might not even know there is a target there.
A Pink team at work. You see the Tadpole low, the Snake high. In this instance, the Tadpole has just marked the target and the Snake has just fired ordnance. The Tadpole is hanging around to assess attack results, just as Young and MacIntosh did. Photo extracted from an informal little book, "The Tadpole and the Snake," by SP4 John DelVecchio, and presented by The Legacy of Valor: Vietnam Helicopter Images and Artifacts.
On November 24, 1970, McIntosh was crewed with his pilot, Capt. Robert J. Young, teamed with two Cobra gunships to conduct an armed reconnaissance mission southeast of Khe Sanh. The crew spotted what appeared to be a new enemy living area, the gunships engaged the target, and the Loach flew in to assess the damage. The problem for the Pink Teams always was that they had the firepower but the enemy had the terrain, and could hide. There were still enemy down there, and the Loach was hit by automatic weapons fire in her belly to the left front side where McIntosh was sitting. Young immediately left the target area, noticing that McIntosh was hit. Right then, Young lost his engine, and attempted to land in an open area. Just before it touched down, the aircraft burst into flames. By the time they were on the deck, flames began entering the cockpit, Young assessed that McIntosh was dead, and he jumped out at the last second, after which the aircraft blew up with McIntosh still inside. McIntosh's body has never been recovered and he is listed as killed, body not recovered, and is listed among the missing.
There is a good book which explains how the Pink Teams worked and how the 101 Airborne was in the fight during 1970. It is, Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970, by Keith W. Nolan.
Three Marines, 3rd Marine Division
This is a video grab of three US Marines with the 3rd Marine Division taken from a CBC report broadcast on October 2, 1968, "Profile of unit containing three Canadians." (Left to right) Ron Payne of Galt, Ontario, Arthur Fisher of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Richard Dextraze of Montréal, Québec." They were waiting to conduct an air assault on a hill.
It is worth noting here that the northern Quang Tri Province was among the most dangerous places for ground forces to be in this war, just below the DMZ. The red dot on the left (west) marks Khe Sanh Base, the one on the right (east) marks Dong Ha, and you can see Route 9 connecting them. Rt. 9 actually continues into Laos at a very important place known as Tchepone. This was a hotly contested route. That is why the Marines were sent there. They were later augmented by the Army. The Khe Sanh area was particularly dangerous, close to Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and on the western side of the DMZ through which the North Vietnamese tried many times to launch full scale invasions. The enemy also moved troops and supplies along Route 9 on many occasions, making their way all the way to Dong Ha and Quang Tri. There is incredible history associated with this route Dextraze and his brothers were to defend.
Regardless of what you might have heard about all this, the Marines won every major fight in Quang Tri and held off repeated North Vietnamese attempts to launch full scale invasions of the South. We took heavy casualties, but the enemy lost tens of thousands troops, and millions of tons of supplies. Our holding out up here stalled many an enemy invasion plan. The US had a plan to move three divisions into Laos to the area of Tchepone to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but the suits were afraid to authorize it. North Vietnamese generals have since said they would have lost the war had that plan been implemented. It was known as "Operation El Paso."
Sgt. Fidele Joseph Bastarache, USA, Saint-Antoine, New Brunswick, B/1-6 Infantry, Americal Division. He moved with his family to Massachusetts in 1962 because of his father's work, and was drafted. His mother asked him to return to Canada. He refused, feeling it his duty to serve. He was a mortarman.
His 6th Infantry Regiment was the first of the Americal's outfits to move ashore, arriving at Chu Lai in October 1967. It would serve in Vietnam for 1,492 days. Chu Lai was located about 60 miles south of Da Nang in southern I Corps. The regiment's mission at this time was to defend Chu Lai, which served, among other things, as the headquarters for the Americal, and Chu Lai's airstrip, which was a significant fighter base, especially for the Marines. Bastarache was killed in action in Quang Tin on May 27, 1968, one month before the end of this tour. His body was recovered and he was buried in Massachusetts. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Purple Heart, and received the Bronze Star Medal (posthumous).
At the time Bastarache was there, his 1-6 Infantry had been involved in a major assault operation in an area known as Wheeler/Wallowa to locate and destroy the enemy in the rice-rich Que Son and Hiep Duc Valleys, provide security to Tam Ky, and secure Highway QL-1 north of Tam Ky. The entire regiment moved out in late April 1968. Both the Que Son and Hiep Duc Valleys had been long time strongholds for the enemy, which employed large units in the region. The North Vietnamese 2nd Division was there. The 1st Marine Division and the Army's 196th Infantry Brigade, to which the 6th Infantry was assigned, fought intense battles throughout the area in 1967 and through 1968.
The Que Son Valley was seen as one of the keys to controlling South Vietnam's five northern provinces. It hosted major agricultural lands and population centers. The enemy had been hit hard, but kept coming back for more, and fighting during May 1968 west of Chu Lai was intense. The 1-6 was in the heat of all this fighting.
This photo shows 1Lt. Larry Swank, the 1-6 Artillery Liaison Officer, calling in Americal Division artillery, usually 105 mm and 155 mm howitzers and 8 in. guns, against Hill 352 on Nui Hoac Ridge. The 8 in. guns employed delayed fuzes enabling the shells to explode below ground and destroy enemy bunkers. Photo courtesy of Larry Swank and presented by Tactical Operations 1-6 Infantry.
By the close of May, the 1-6 was engaged in bitter battles in assaulting Nui Hoac Ridge and Hill 352, which was the peak of this ridge. The enemy was dug in with extensive bunker complexes and was employing significant artillery, along with having two regiments of infantry. Incredibly, Bastarache survived this terrible fighting and helped turn back the 2nd NVA Division and destroy its 3rd Regiment. Fighting west of Tam Ky continued through May 26. We do not have the details, but Bastarache's luck ran out the next day, on May 27.
SSgt. Gary Butt , USA, Chateauguay, Montréal, Québec. He enlisted in the US military at Plattsburg, New York in 1968. Butt wanted to learn how to repair helicopters, but was an expert marksman and was assigned as a rifleman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, to the 4-503 Infantry. Butt volunteered for duty in Vietnam and served from July 1970, to April 1971.
This is a photo from the 4-503 Infantry photo archives of men carrying a wounded brother to safety. It is not of Butt. You get the idea what these men would do for each other. Presented by 4-503 Infantry. I believe the two medics carrying the wounded soldier are Docs T. Levi and A. Brown, with S. Scarpola providing cover.
Butt was killed on April 3, 1971 in Binh Dinh. He was hit by an explosive while carrying a wounded buddy to safety. His body was recovered. He was posthumously promoted to Staff Sergeant.
The 173rd Bde arrived in Vietnam in 1965, the first Army ground combat unit to arrive in Vietnam. One battalion of the Royal Australian Army and a battery from New Zealand were attached to the Brigade, making the 173d Airborne the only multi-national combat unit in the war. The bulk of the brigade was located in Binh Din Province by 1968. It remained there for the next four years and was in combat longer than any other American military unit since the Revolutionary War. The brigade's operations concentrated on the southern stronghold of the Viet Cong Main Force in the legendary Iron Triangle in War Zone D. The brigade suffered over 10,000 casualties (killed and wounded). The 4-503 arrived in June 1966.
During the period in which Butt served, a principal emphasis for the brigade beginning in April 1969 was pacification of the four northern districts of Binh Dinh Province, Operation Washington Green. This was an extraordinarily difficult time for our men on the ground in Vietnam. The 173rd Bde leadership was anxious to search and destroy, but was now told to pacify instead. Further, soldiers in this region and others could see political realities at home and on the field of battle in Vietnam itself. Brigadier General John Barnes, the 173rd deputy commander, was in charge of this operation, which ran from April 1969 through December 1970.
The term "pacification," however, was a misunderstood term at home in those days. Most thought of it in terms of bringing peace to the countryside. That was the objective. However, the means by which that would be accomplished was through the threat of or use of military force. As a result, the men of the 173rd Brigade conducted small unit patrols around hamlets and supported Army of the RVN (ARVN) operations to deny the enemy access to rice growing and population centers. They engaged the enemy a lot, killed many of them, captured tons of supplies and weapons, and at the end of the day, stopped the enemy from mounting any major offensive operations.
"In the critical II Corps province of Binh Dinh, where the communists were strong and entrenched, the US 173rd Bde conducted Operation Washington Green, providing exemplary support to pacification."
The entire brigade left Vietnam in August 1971, just four months after SSgt. Butt was killed. The enemy launched a new offensive as the brigade was leaving. As mentioned earlier, he was killed on April 3, 1971. By that time, most American ground forces had been withdrawn from the RVN. Indeed the 173rd itself started withdrawing in April and continued its withdrawal until completed on August 25, 1971. The brigade conducted its 54th and final combat operation in Binh Dinh, known as "Operation Green Sure," from March 17-April 21, 1971. It was during this period that SSgt. Butt was killed. He was a posthumous recipient of the Bronze Star Medal with 'V' for VALOR device, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal and was entitled to wear the Combat Infantryman Badge and Army Parachute Wings.
It turns out there was wide disagreement about enemy intentions in the area. The Marine Corps leadership felt the enemy was not going to try anything major up here against the Marines. General Westmoreland, at the time the overall Vietnam commander, disagreed, and smelled an invasion attempt.
Part of an overall plan named "Operation Prairie, RT61 was, I believe, the first recon team to be inserted into the Mutter's Ridge area, tasked to determine the extent of enemy forces operating there. If they came into contact, a significant force was arrayed to respond. The team was led by SSgt. Billy M. Donaldson.
Schmidt was with three other Marines on Recon Team 61, inserted on Mutters Ridge on August 6, 1966, also known as Nui Cay Tri Ridge. Mutter's Ridge formed a portion of the southern boundary of the DMZ. This ridge connected several high spots, a few of which were Hills 400, 461 and 484, known well by many Marines who were there. The 3rd Marine Division Association history describes it this way:
"Mutter's Ridge was not just one ridge line. It was more a series of long, generally east-west oriented, finger-like ridges that came down from the north-south side running mountains, separating the low coastal plains south of the DMZ near Con Thien from highland flats around Khe Sanh, in the northwest corner of South Vietnam, near the border with Laos."
As soon as they hit the ground, they spotted enemy camp fires, and by August 8 they spotted enemy forces. Within those two days, multiple enemy units had moved into the area. RT61 started moving upslope. As a result, 2d Lt. Andrew W. Sherman led a 40 man team from E/2-4 Marines, called "Sparrow Hawk," to reinforce and extract. In the afternoon, eight UH-34s arrived to extract the Marines. The first helo landed, took aboard some Marines, took off, and came under heavy fire. Five UH-34s went in but could only extract 20 of the 45 Marines on the ground. Sherman determined they were going to have to stay for a while, waved off the other helos, and began setting up defensive positions.
US Marines carry a wounded Marine under fire during the battle for Hill 484 at Mutter's Ridge, 3 miles north of the Rockpile , 2.5 miles west northwest of Dong Ha, 1966. Photo credit: Larry Burrows, Life. Presented by popasmoke.com
The enemy, in company strength, assaulted their position. The Marines pushed them back, but Sherman was killed. The platoon sergeant, Robert L. Pace, took charge, and was wounded in the next assault. SSgt. Donaldson, the RT61 leader, took charge. They were surrounded. Artillery was called in, Marine F-4B Phantoms arrived and smothered an attempted assault. Donaldson was severely wounded during this assault. Capt. Howard V. Lee, E/2-4 Marines commander, brought in seven other Marines plus himself but heavy fire forced their helo to land outside the Marine defensive perimeter. Only three of them could get to the defenders.
VMO-2 had just arrived at Dong Ha, a new base. This is one of its UH-1Es, Presented by popasmoke.com
Major Vincil W. Hazelbaker flew in a UH-1E under heavy fire and retrieved Lee's men still outside the perimeter. Lee was one of those to make it inside the perimeter, he took command, and reogranized Marine defenses. More helicopters dropped in much needed ammo.
The enemy kept assaulting, and helicopters could no longer land. But the defenders kept pushing the enemy back. By early evening, only 16 Marines were able to fight. Lee had been wounded twice. The weather ceilings were low, it was dark, but nonetheless UH-1E gunships supported by a flareship and two USAF AC-47 gunships stayed all over the enemy. Lee reported his men were running out of ammo, and Hazelbaker returned, landed, the troops unloaded ammo, and then his helicopter was hit. Two of his crew were wounded, they were helped out of the aircraft to "safety," and Hazelbaker and his co-pilot joined the fight on the ground. But they had successfully brought in a bunch of ammo, and now also had the M-60 machine gun on the helicopter.
The enemy withdrew for the night. Hazelbaker took command, as Lee was now too weak from blood loss. Hazelbaker called in a napalm air attack and that shut the enemy down. F/2-4 Marines and the rest of E/2-4 arrived, spread out through the area, but the enemy had departed. This fight was over for now.
The enemy had as many as 100 dead. Five Americans were killed, 26 wounded. One of those killed was Dennis Schmidt.
I commend the "US Marines in Vietnam: An Expanding War, 1966," by Jack Shulimson to your attention, in particular, "Chapter 11, The DMZ War Continues, Operation Prairie."
During one fierce battle, and during the heat of battle, he moved outside his unit's perimeter to obtain sorely needed water. During another, while his unit was under heavy mortar and rocket fire, he ran from position to position, exposing himself, in order to urge on his men. His men were so highly motivated by his encouragement that they opened up with intensive fire on the enemy and stopped its advance. Running low on ammunition and other critical supplies, he organized air strikes to provide cover for incoming resupply missions. His plan succeeded and his men were able to fend off further attacks.
Their position was attacked on February 8, 1968 by a reinforced battalion from the 101D Regiment, 325C NVA Division. The enemy launched a two pronged attack against the northwest and southwest corners of the outpost, employing bangalore torpedoes and satchel charges or simply covering the barbed wire and rolling over it. They managed to get in and attack with RPGs, satchel charges and machine guns, pinning down the Marines.
The attack lasted many hours, and was hand-to-hand at times. Some Marines even resorted to throwing rocks at them when their grenades and ammo ran critically short. The enemy managed to occupy two thirds of the outpost, but a combination of artillery support from main base and the fighting done by the platoon resulted in a stalemate. Twenty-four of 64 Marines on Hill 64 were killed, 29 wounded. Lt. Roach was killed. So was Pvt. Dickie, when an explosive device struck his bunker. The bunker collapsed on top of Dickie and they were buried in the rubble. It took three days before their bodies were found. Marines dug for him under fire. This time, however, they spotted the source of the enemy fire, called in air, and kept digging. His head had been blown off from the base of his skull to his forehead. Many others were dead as well. But the enemy did not succeed.
A relief force fought its way to the outpost, led by Capt. J.J.M. Radcliffe, A/1-9 commander. Radcliffe reorganized the men who could still fight, they fought off several enemy assaults and at the end prevailed. The Marines held. Well over 150 enemy were killed. Many of their bodies, strewn about, slowed Radcliffe's men in the fight, as did enemy dug in along the trench-line and bunker areas. In addition, he had many wounded Marines in the trenches, and had to be careful what weapons he employed and how. Furthermore, he had lost many of his platoon and squad leaders. It took considerable time to get everyone out of there, wounded and dead. Once done, air strikes came in to destroy the outpost and damn near level the hill itself.
Vets With a Mission has a good summary of the battle, "The Battle for Hill 64," written by Randell Widner, a former member of 1-9 Marines.
The US 7th Fleet held sway out in the South China Sea and Gulf of Tonkin, but the inland waterways of the Mekong Delta belonged to River Squadron 5's "River Rats." This is an important distinction. The commander of US forces in Vietnam had operational control over the River Rats on the inland waterways, but did not have such control authority over the 7th Fleet out at sea. The Mekong Delta region has extensive inland waterways, comprised of an estimated 3,000 miles of rivers, canals, and small streams, the heart of rice-bowl country. Because of the character of the Mekong River, they were known as the "Brown Water Navy."
Patrol Boat River (PBR), widely used by Brown Water Navy in Vietnam. Presented by wikipedia.
River Sector 51 was in the Can Tho-Bin Thuy area. It was one of five such river divisions, each with two 10-boat sections, the boats employed called River Patrol Boats or PBRs. Each PBR had a crew of four "bluejackets," Navy men, a surface radar, two radios, and usually armed with two twin-mounted .50-caliber machine guns forward, M-60 machine guns port and starboard amidship, and a .50 caliber aft.
Graham was the forward gunner and Musetti was at the helm. They spotted a watercraft, a sampan, near the mouth of a canal. They approached the sampan which was later found to be a decoy to lure them over. They were ambushed from two sides. A first hand account said that a patrol officer was also aboard, and reported that a B-40 rocket hit the steel plating on the port side. The Patrol Officer was seriously wounded by the shrapnel. Then another B-40 rocket hit, killed Musetti instantly, and disabled the engine. PBR-100 drifted helplessly into the canal, where PBRs were not supposed to go because of the danger. PBR-100, Graham at the gun, along with another PBR opened fire. Graham stayed at his gun even with his ship drifting aimlessly. Two other crewman jumped overboard. Graham continued firing to cover them and the other PBR that was coming over to rescue the crew. Just before the other boat got there, PBR-100 was hit yet again, blowing Graham forward, never to be seen again. The other PBR rescued the wounded patrol officer and the two crew who had gone overboard. The boat exploded and Graham and Musetti were not recovered. They were both declared killed, body not recovered, missing in action.
Graham came from a Navy family. His mother served in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943 for nearly three years. His father also served in the Royal Canadian Navy on convoy duty from Newfoundland to Londonderry, Ireland during WWII for three years and on a sub-chaser. His family moved to Anaheim, California in 1964, he married in 1966. Gil's brother Rick also joined the Navy and went to Vietnam one month before Gil was killed. It is my understanding that the Navy sent Rick home as two brothers were not supposed to be in a war zone at the same time. It won't bring Graham or Musetti back, but a search and rescue crew went to the site the next day and kept returning for several days, during which time they counted more than 70 enemy dead. It appears Graham took them down before they got to him.
Sgt. Rick Warke's Vietnam War uniform on display at the Canadian War Museum (2007). They left off the ammunition pouches and added the flak jacket (which Rick said he did not wear), the M16 and the boots. Presented by Colin Macgregor.
Sgt. Rick Warke, USMC, Richmond, British Columbia, 2nd Force Recon, and later to a Battalion Landing Team (BLT). Warke was a military man. In Canada, he served with the 395 and 657 Squadrons, Royal Canadian Air Cadets, the 418 Squadron Search and Rescue, 2nd Battalion, North Saskatchewan Regiment, and the Saskatchewan Dragoons. He wanted to go to Vietnam so he joined the USMC. In Vietnam, he served as a sniper because of his experience hunting big game. Following the war, he returned to Canada and served with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), then the US Navy on the USS Sperry, and as a Water Safety Survival Instructor. He ended up as a Sniper Instructor in Okinawa with the USMC and lives in Utah.
Dennis Thomson, Hamilton, Ontario. Crossed the border at Buffalo and joined the US Army. Both parents died while he was in Vietnam. Served two tours of duty in one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army, as a combat medic. His recruiter asked him if he were scared of blood, he replied no, so the recruiter said he'd make him a combat medic. He has said, "I think I was a good medic. Actually, I know I was a good medic." He spent most of his time trying to keep wounded soldiers alive while they waited for the Medevac Dustoff helicopters to get in there. He first served with Alpha Troop 1-1 Armored Cavalry, 23rd "Americal" Infantry Division. His platoon had 18 medics.
I came across the web site of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association, Manitoba and watched a You Tube video of "The Upraising of the Veteran's Memorial Wall" in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 11, 2006. Some of its members left their profiles, so I'll highlight a few here.
Ron Parkes, another Canadian who jumped out of perfectly good aircraft. Enlisted in the US Army in 1962 with the 101 Airborne, went to Vietnam in 1965 with the division's 1st Brigade, the "Bastogne" Brigade, and was a member of a 105 mm howitzer crew. Prior to joining the US Army, he served with the 10th Armor Regiment, Canadian Forces Reserves.
Here's another one with the parachutist badge, Rob Purvis, who served in Vietnam in 1969-70 with Kilo Company, 75th Infantry Ranger Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. The motto of the 75th was, "Of their own accord." Ron joined the US Army in 1968 with his three best friends, Larry Collins, and Butch and Bill Buffie. Larry Collins was killed in action.
A dapper dude Murray Bradshaw is today, but to the old salts, one smart looking soldier in the old days. Served in the Qui Nhon region of the RVN in 1967-68, with the 1st Cav of the Americal Division, Received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and wears the Combat Infantryman's Badge.
Butch Buffie was born in Winnepeg, Manitoba, and served with the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1968-69. He received the Bronze Star and two Army Commendation Medals.
So, those are some examples of the courage and valor of those Canadians who served in the US military in Vietnam. During the course of my research, I came across a fabulous web site of photography taken at the 10th Anniversary of the North Wall, July 1-4, 2005, which coincided with the presentation at the memorial site of the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington. I commend the site to you. There is a ton of terrific photography there. I have taken a few samples as my way to honor these men and express my great pride and admiration in them.
An aerial shot of the North Wall taken by G. Mock flying his trusty DHC-1B-2-S5 Chipmunk, used by the Royal Canadian Air Force as a trainer from roughly 1948-1972.
Parade rest, standing post.
I think his name is "Joe Schooley," US Army.
That's the mobile memorial behind him replicating the one in Washington. He's wearing the Stetson insignia of the 11th Armored Cavalry, the "Blackhorse."
As was the case in the US, there are still those who look down on those who served in Vietnam. As is the case in the US, there are plenty of guys like this who are proud to let everyone know they served, and if someone wants to make something of, well let's go at it lad.
Color guard before the North Wall. Detroit in the background.
On these occasions, the men can be forgiven if they set their Marines vs. Army rivalries aside.
Last name is "Newton," and he's a US Marine.
Another one proud to let the world know. As an aside, the color combination of red and black signifies red for the blood shed, black for the mourning of those lost.
Not sure how Ernest Hemingway got in the photo! Seriously, last name "Newton." Looks like he's wearing the Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge (jumping out of perfectly good aircraft), the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medals, the Presidential Unit Citation, and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, among others.
For July 4, 2005, Staff Sergeant Newton put on his special rockin'-rollin'-ridin' outfit. Bravo!
Combined US Military-Canadian Forces Color Guard.
Canadian Forces Color Guard
It is worth noting that while Canadians and Americans were struggling to get this North Wall Memorial and recognition for those Canadians who served, the Province of Québec was quick to respect their service and sacrifice.
The province established a memorial at Pointe-du-Buisson, Melocheville. It is shown in this photograph thanks to Canadian Vietnam Veterans. I might also add that I have seen comments from Americans who served in Vietnam that they loved having a Canadian with them who could speak French, as that helped them communicate with their South Vietnamese counterparts, and with captured enemy. I have also seen comments from people from Québec saying that the province was largely pro-Vietnam War as opposed to most of the others.
Editor's note: To you Canadians who served in the Vietnam War, I urge you to find a way to document your memories and make them available to the public. You are part of history, and that history cannot be written without you. Finding out about you is like pulling teeth! If I have goofed up any of this, let me know right away and I'll fix it. If you have photos of any of the men mentioned here, or want stories added about others, holler my way and we'll do it. God's speed.