I worked on over thirty episodes of "War Stories," but this one holds a special place in my heart and mind. For me the Siege of Firebase Ripcord distills the complex history of America's war in Vietnam down to one essential point. It offers a simple message and it is one any great nation and its' people must never forget. That lesson? When a free nation sends men and woman to war their sacrifice must be honored and rewarded. Regardless of outcome these people deserve our thanks, respect, support and more importantly a place in our memories.
The Siege of Firebase Ripcord is a battle that probably shouldn't have happened. By 1970 America was turning the fight in Vietnam over to the Vietnamese. But why the leadership of the mighty 101st Airborne Division decided to go toe-to-toe with the North Vietnamese Army is largely irrelevant. They did, and hundreds of 19 or 20 or 21-year-old men did what their country was ordering them to do.
Ripcord and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hawkins puts it this way, "As long as America has men like this, and women, and citizens that will give them the support that they require, then we'll still be America."
Ripcord's proper name was FSB (Fire Support Base) Ripcord. It was located in the dense and virtually uninhabited A Shua Valley that lies in western Vietnam along the border with Laos. I've been there, it is hot dense jungle and simply hiking the trials is exhausting. It was through this beautiful and dangerous patch of earth that the famous Ho Chi Ming trails served as supply lines for the North Vietnamese Army or NVA. The mission for the men of the 101st was simple. Ripcord would provide artillery cover and the troops would fan out in the jungle cutting off enemy supplies. Plans are often simple, but the saying goes, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." Enemies, after all, have plans of their own.
Author of "Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970" Keith Nolan says, "Ripcord was a launching pad, per se, into this enemy controlled area, and Ripcord was going to support the building of other fire bases in this area. The goal being to destroy their supply cachets."
The battle would last 23 days, and the combat was as fierce and cruel as any in history. Medic Gerald Cafferty remembers it this way: "It's never that close, I mean, it sounds like a movie. Something you see in the movies. But, it was it was really true this time. They were right there... eyeball to eyeball."
When the Vietnam War comes to mind too many of us conjure images and ideas far different from the reality faced by men like those at FSB Ripcord. We envision sandal-clad Vietcong setting up booby traps and then disappearing like ghosts into the jungle. Stereotypes driven home by bad movies and the uninformed seem to have taken hold of the war in Vietnam's legacy and the legacy of the men and women who served there.
This episode of "War Stories" takes you inside one of the fiercest and least know battles of the war and it will reveal a war most of us were never taught about in school or told about on the news.
— Martin Hinton is a senior producer with program development at FOX News. Before that he spent six years working on "War Stories With Oliver North."