written by Bill Spanos
Vietnam Veteran Bill Spanos was a US Army advisor to the South Vietnamese Army, which was called ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). He served as both an Assistant and Senior Advisor with MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) Team 70 to the 5th ARVN Division. MACV Advisor Teams consisted of four men, Senior Advisor, Assistant Advisor, Heavy Weapons Specialist, Light Weapons Specialist. They lived with our South Vietnamese counterparts and their families in their compounds. Below, Bill writes of his arrival in Vietnam in 1967.
I arrived in Vietnam in June 1967 after 14 weeks of training at Fort Bragg where I learned some of the Vietnamese language.
Before heading overseas, I got a warning from a friend serving as an administrative officer for an Advisor Team in Vietnam.
“When you land at Tan Son Nhut,” he said, “watch out for infantry sergeants. They’re there to steal troops for their units. Don’t let them get you.”
When I came down the plane ramp, I spotted a guy with a MACV sign and made a dash to him and avoided two NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) looking to poach first lieutenants.
I spent five days at the MACV compound for orientation and supply. While there, I went to the Armory to get assigned a weapon. The Armorer handed me an old WWII-vintage M1 Carbine, all wrapped up like a mummy in Cosmoline and burlap.
“I want an M16,” I said to the Armorer.
“The M1 Carbine is the assigned weapon for MACV field unit Advisors,” he replied with a shrug.
I paused and thought a bit. Then, I said, “If this carbine is perfectly zeroed in, it might be effective to 100 meters. If not, then the only use it could serve would be to beat Charlie to death as he was coming over the berm and into our position.”
The Armorer was unmoved, and I took my carbine, determined to exchange it at the first opportunity.
My assignment was to MACV Team 70 to the ARVN 5th Division in Song Be in Phuoc Long Province, about 70 miles northeast of Saigon. I was to be Assistant Advisor to the ARVN 3rd Battalion, 9th Regiment.
Upon my arrival in Song Be, my Senior Advisor took one look at my M1 and gave me a CAR15 (short-barreled version of the M16), a .45 pistol, a couple of grenades, and a map and compass. Then, he introduced me to my South Vietnamese counterpart and told me I was going on a 10-day operation. I had been in country for all of seven days.
We headed out in company strength, with squads up front, on the flanks, and in the rear for security. I was with the Command group in the middle. We’d just entered a rubber plantation, not even 45 minutes into our operation, when we got hit.
The VC had let the point squad pass. Then, our left flank caught just a glimmer of VC weapons and started firing. All hell broke loose.
We managed to fight off the ambush without air support, using the mortar platoon we had with us. When it was all over, we’d suffered one killed and seven wounded. The VC had it worse.
Following the medevac and an after-action assessment, we prepared to move on with the operation.
My Vietnamese counterpart pointed to my fatigues, which were soaked from the lower back down to my boots. He and his deputy pointed and laughed. They thought I had peed my pants.
The truth was more sobering. The canteen on my belt had taken a round.
To this day, I’m glad I didn’t have that M1 Carbine with me.
I’m also glad I got baptized by fire early so early in my tour. I know it helped me survive subsequent ambushes.
Bill Spanos, Thanksgiving 1967. Medical Civil Affairs Psywar (MEDCAP), Quan Lai and Tan Hung, Binh Long Province, Vietnam.