Hill 875

Charles J. Watters

Medal of Honor

On January 17, 1927  Charles Joseph Watters first saw the light of day.  Attending college at Seton Hall, he made the decision to become a priest and went on to Immaculate Conception Seminary.  Ordained on May 30, 1953, he served parishes in Jersey City, Rutherford, Paramus and Cranford, all in New Jersey.

 

While attending to his priestly duties, Father Watters became a pilot.  His longest solo flight was a trip to Argentina.  He earned a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating.  In 1962 he joined the Air Force National Guard in New Jersey.  A military tradition ran in his family with his uncle, John J. Doran, a bosun’s mate aboard the USS Marblehead, having been awarded a medal of honor for his courage at Cienfuegos, Cuba on May 11, 1898.

In August 1965 he transferred to the Army as a chaplain.  At the age of 38, a remarkably advanced age to be going through that rugged course in my opinion, Father Watters successfully completed Airborne training and joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Sky Soldiers.  In June of 1966 Major Watters began a twelve month tour of duty in Vietnam with the 173rd.

Chaplain Watters quickly became a legend in the 173rd.  He constantly stayed with units in combat.  When a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he joined another unit in action.  He believed that his role was to be with the fighting units serving the men.  Saying mass,  joking with the men, giving them spiritual guidance, tending the wounded, Chaplain Watters seemed to be everywhere.   PFC Carlos Lozado remembered decades later that when he lacked the money to buy a crib for a new-born daughter Father Watters sought him out and gave him the money.  The word quickly spread in “The Herd”, as the 173rd was called, about the priest who didn’t mind risking his life with them, a reputation sealed when Father Watters made a combat jump with the troops during  Operation Junction City on February 22, 1967. (more…)

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Published in: on May 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hill 875  
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John McCain: Requiescat In Pace

 

Senator John McCain (R.AZ) has died at age 81 of brain cancer.  That is a very hard way to go, as I know from my secretary of 30 years dying from similar cancer three years ago on August 28, 2015.  He is at peace now, and my prayers for both him and his family.  I was not a political supporter of Senator McCain except, reluctantly, when he was the Republican standard bearer in 2008.  However, I never doubted his courage, based upon his refusal to accept freedom in 1968 from his North Vietnamese captors due, doubtless, to his father being a high ranking Admiral and the North Vietnamese seeking a propaganda coup.  He was warned by his captors that refusal would mean torture and very bad treatment for him, and they amply kept their word.  Whatever else he did in his life, at that moment McCain was a true American hero.

 

Published in: on August 29, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John McCain: Requiescat In Pace  
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Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day

 

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

Pope Benedict XVI

My fellow Americans, Memorial Day is a day of ceremonies and speeches. Throughout America today, we honor the dead of our wars. We recall their valor and their sacrifices. We remember they gave their lives so that others might live.

We’re also gathered here for a special event—the national funeral for an unknown soldier who will today join the heroes of three other wars.

When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.

Well, this is especially so today, for in our minds and hearts is the memory of Vietnam and all that that conflict meant for those who sacrificed on the field of battle and for their loved ones who suffered here at home.

Not long ago, when a memorial was dedicated here in Washington to our Vietnam veterans, the events surrounding that dedication were a stirring reminder of America’s resilience, of how our nation could learn and grow and transcend the tragedies of the past.

During the dedication ceremonies, the rolls of those who died and are still missing were read for three days in a candlelight ceremony at the National Cathedral. And the veterans of Vietnam who were never welcomed home with speeches and bands, but who were never defeated in battle and were heroes as surely as any who have ever fought in a noble cause, staged their own parade on Constitution Avenue. As America watched them—some in wheelchairs, all of them proud—there was a feeling that this nation—that as a nation we were coming together again and that we had, at long last, welcomed the boys home.

“A lot of healing went on,” said one combat veteran who helped organize support for the memorial. And then there was this newspaper account that appeared after the ceremonies. I’d like to read it to you. “Yesterday, crowds returned to the Memorial. Among them was Herbie Petit, a machinist and former marine from New Orleans. ‘Last night,’ he said, standing near the wall, ‘I went out to dinner with some other ex-marines. There was also a group of college students in the restaurant. We started talking to each other. And before we left, they stood up and cheered us. The whole week,’ Petit said, his eyes red, ‘it was worth it just for that.'”

It has been worth it. We Americans have learned to listen to each other and to trust each other again. We’ve learned that government owes the people an explanation and needs their support for its actions at home and abroad. And we have learned, and I pray this time for good, the most valuable lesson of all—the preciousness of human freedom. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day  
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A Half Century Since the Tet Offensive

 

Fifty years ago, if the US had been in command of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese military, short of telling them to surrender, the US could not have ordered a more disastrous course than what was ordered by Hanoi.  Over strenuous opposition within the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese People’s Army, hardliners in the Hanoi regime won out over moderates and ordered a surprise nation-wide offensive throughout South Vietnam that would lead to popular uprisings and the toppling of the Vietnamese government.  Now many North Vietnamese and Viet Cong officers realized this was military madness, but waves of arrest of North Vietnamese officers in 1967 broke the back of the military resistance to this plan.

Timed to occur during the truce for the celebration of Tet in Vietnam at the end of January 1968, the offensive met with bloody defeat.  The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese incurred, between January and September of 1968, 100,000 casualties, of which about half were fatalities.  The offensive played into the American strengths of heavy fire power, complete command of the air and rapid troop movements.  The ARVN units stood and fought and there were no popular uprisings.  The Viet Cong was finished as a strategically important factor in the War, with the remainder of the War being largely a conventional conflict.

The Tet Offensive was a clear military victory for the US and its allies.  How a military victory of such a magnitude was transformed into a political defeat will be the subject of another post.

 

“[The Tet Offensive] failed because we underestimated our enemies and overestimated ourselves. We set goals which we realistically could not achieve.”
Tran Van Tra, NVA General, writing in 1978

 

 

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on A Half Century Since the Tet Offensive  
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Army Vietnam Studies

 

“The internet has changed everything” is a trite saying, but in regard to historical research it is also true.  Travel and expense were often the lot of historians as they chased documents.  Now, so much is available free with a few mouse clicks.  Case in point is the Army series Vietnam Studies, twenty-six volumes that examine the Army’s role in Vietnam.  A feast for historians or those who simply want a detailed look, for example, at Army air mobile operations in Vietnam.  Each volume is now available free in PDF downloads.  Go here to access them.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Army Vietnam Studies  
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November 14-18, 1965: Battle of the Ia Drang

 

The first major battle between the United States Army and the Peoples’ Army of North Vietnam, the battle of the Ia (River) Drang in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam involved approximately 2500 North Vietnamese troops, the 66th and 33rd regiments, opposing 1,000 troopers of the 1rst Cavalry division.  The American attack on these two regiments was part of the Pleiku campaign from October 26, 1965-November 25, 1965 which ended with the destruction of the three regiment North Vietnamese force occupying the Chu Pong-Ia Drang complex. (more…)

Published in: on November 18, 2016 at 6:48 pm  Comments Off on November 14-18, 1965: Battle of the Ia Drang  
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Paint it Black

 

Something for the weekend.  Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones. (more…)

Published in: on August 29, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The Known Unknown Soldier

Michael Blassie

“At a moment of great crises in the history of the world, he gave of himself,”

Archbishop Justin Rigali at funeral mass for Michael Blassie

Air Force First Lieutenant Michael Blassie’s life came to an end at age twenty-four on May 11, 1972 when the A-37B Dragonfly that he was flying in support of South Vietnamese troops in An Loc was shot down.  His body could not be recovered because the North Vietnamese had control of the area where his plane was shot down.  The Saint Louis native, a 1970 graduate of the Air Force academy, had a short military career but an illustrious one:  earning a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, and an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.  Thanks to the air support he and his colleagues gave, the North Vietnamese did not take An Loc.

Five months later partial skeletal remains were recovered from the crash site.  Initially identified as being Blassie’s, the remains were later reclassified as being unknown when it was erroneously determined that the height and age of the remains did not match with Blassie. (more…)

Published in: on August 21, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Hey, Who Did Win the Vietnam War Anyway?

Vietnam Today

 

History is full of ironies and none more so than the development of Vietnam in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  Independent journalist Michael Totten, who specializes in covering wars and desperately poor, ill governed countries, gives us refreshing news about Vietnam:

 

The ruling Communist Party knows better than just about anyone that communist economics are a disaster. Vietnam’s economy has been growing at light speed for a while now. I knew that in advance, and yet it still stunned me. The city trembles with industriousness and entrepreneurship. Small and large businesses are everywhere. Half the residents seem to be in business for themselves. Anything and everything you can possibly imagine is for sale, though it’s not all high-end yet. I saw a Louis Vuitton outlet next to a bootleg CD store, an elegant Western-style café next to low-end bar with hard chairs and no air-conditioning, a Body Shop next to a used clothing store with cast-off second-hand T-shirts from the West, and an art gallery next to a store selling old pots and pans.

Market economies are uneven, no doubt, but they sure as hell beat the alternative. I could hardly believe it, but when I was a kid the Vietnamese stood in long lines on the street to exchange ration coupons for handfuls of rice. Today the country is one of the world’s largest exporters of rice.

Japan and South Korea: watch out. If the economy keeps growing and the political system breaks open, Vietnam will be a country to reckon with. (more…)

Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Rocky Versace: The Bravest Man You Have Never Heard Of

Captain Versace

 FOR THE ROCK and the children and sugar people of NamCan

Dedication of the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Marie Teresa Rios Versace

 

For his entire life Captain Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace was on a mission.  His first mission was as an Army Ranger.  His second mission was to be a Catholic priest and to work with orphan kids.  He had been accepted to a Maryknoll seminary but then fate intervened.  The son of Colonel Humbert  J. Versace from Puerto Rico and his wife Marie Teresa Rios Versace, a novelist and poet who, among many other books, wrote The Fifteenth Pelican on which the TV series The Flying Nun was based, Rocky was an unforgettable character.  A graduate of West Point in 1959, he was an Army Ranger and a soldier as tough as they come.  He had an intelligence of a high order as demonstrated by his fluency in French and Vietnamese.  He loved to laugh and have a good time.  At the same time he was deeply religious and a fervent Catholic.  In short, he was a complete man.

Volunteering for service in Vietnam, he began his tour as an intelligence advisor on May 12, 1962.

Rocky fell in love with the Vietnamese people, especially the kids.  In his free time he volunteered in a Vietnamese orphanage.  He believed in his mission and regarded it as a crusade to prevent the people he loved living under Communism.  During his tour he received news that his application to attend a Maryknoll seminary had been accepted.  He planned after ordination to return to Vietnam and work with Vietnam orphans as a priest.  He agreed to a six month extension of his tour since that fit in with his plans to attend the seminary.

On October 29, 1963 he was serving as an intelligence advisor with the 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets).  He accompanied several companies of South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense (militia) that were seeking to remove a Viet Cong command post in the U Minh Forest.  They were ambushed and Rocky gave covering fire to allow the South Vietnamese to retreat and get away.  He was captured.  The Viet Cong murdered him on September 26, 1965.  What happened in between made Rocky a legend.  He was taken to a camp deep in the jungle along with Lieutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant Dan Pitzer.  After their eventual release they told all and sundry what they witnessed Rocky do. (more…)

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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