I was the network television pool camera for the Desert Storm “Victory” Parade. We were on a Flat bed truck rolling in front of the parade leaders. I took this still image of General Schwarzkopf and his staff at the front as they marched down Constitution avenue in Washington DC., The parade was in June of 1991. I used the photo for a “Veterans Day Special Event Station” 1991. On Veterans Day that Year (91) it was pouring rain! Wet and Cold. We operated near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the service drive next to the Lincoln Memorial. We were in an empty truck similar to a UPS delivery truck with no packages. We set up a table and put wire antennas out. It was fun.
This was the first Special Event Station I organized. Me and several Hams from NBC manned the station, set up near this monument statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. On the air there was a tremendous response. I shot this photo on the morning of Veteran’s Day 1990. About 7am. I’ve always liked this statue. Jan Scruggs the Vet who made the wall happen, came by that day and said hi at the station site.
Basic Training Graduation Photo: Ft. Bliss Texas Drill Sgt’s Annus (on left) Drill Sgt Semko (on right) You never forget the names of your Basic Training NCO’s.
I joined the Army in 1969. The Army has a battery of tests to figure out how to best use a new recruit. One of the questions was “Which would you rather do? Go to the Opera? OR Go camp out in Yellowstone National Park?
Of course, I answered the Campout!! “Yep.., He’s infantry material.“ I finished at the top of my class in Basic Training. And the Top 2 % Army Wide in Infantry training. I took Basic at Ft. Bliss –went to Infantry School at Ft. Lewis and Scout Dog Handler training at Ft. Benning. I landed in the 101st Airborne Division (I Corps) Vietnam 70-71. Vietnam was a defining experience for those of us who went, I”m glad I did. Combat Infantry. At the Tip of the Spear. It does not get any better.
My unit was the 42nd Infantry Platoon Scout Dog / 101St Airborne Division)
I was an Infantry Scout Dog Handler.
Scout Dog Teams walked “Point‘ on Infantry jungle patrols. The “mission” of the Scout Dog team is to provide “Early Silent Warning” of booby traps, ambush, cache’s of weapons, and evidence of enemy activity. The “Point” Man and his Scout Dog, (worked off leash) followed closely by the “slack” man. The “slack” position is filled by an experienced soldier to “backup” the “Point” team. NO CHERRIES! –My unit only had 3 CAR-15‘s (CAR-15 with shorter/telescoping stock ). CAR-15’s were issued to the 3 senior field opns soldiers in my unit. I didn’t get a CAR-15 until sometime in early spring of 71. — Photo above with M-16. I carried 23 magazines…. 2 (7) magazine OD green cotton cloth bandoliers across my chest. 2 Magazines on the weapon itself. (Taped in Reverse for rapid reload) 4 in a Pistol belt pouch on my right side — and 3 in an outer pouch of my Rucksack.– Carrying grenades was optional. My first few months in the field I carried 4 — I loosened the pin — which was hard as hell to first-time pull –– but I taped the spoon down so I had to remove the tape first. You only get one chance with a grenade. Improper pin removal, stance or throwing method could be fatal.— The Jungle is thick and lots of stuff grabs onto you. I didn’t want to chance any detonation with the M-26. I eventually dropped to carrying 2 grenades. I always started a mission with 18 quarts of water. That’s 2 lbs per quart =36 lbs of water alone Dogs dehydrate way faster than a Man. A Dog Handler couldn’t be sure his mission would be near the bountiful jungle streams. I always max- loaded water as if we would not be near a natural water source. In our AO (area of operation) there were many streams that fed the rivers., The Song Bo River out near the Ashau Valley was magnificent.
Double Click or ZOOM in on the Chopper Photo above. You’ll see my Scout Dog “Argo” his head over my leg. He loved to watch the ground as we flew. Sometimes his saliva would blow back on the door gunner! They would always laugh! We “Argo” and I walked “Point” in the Jungle. I live today because of that small ( 58 lb. Shepard) Best pure “Combat Dog” ever. We (“Argo and I”) shared the Combat Medal shown below.
My decorations: Among the most coveted awards in the US Army
Most GI’s in Vietnam got a 5-7 day leave for “Rest and Recreation”. Your choices were Thailand for debauchery, Hong Kong, Australia and Honolulu. OR worst case. China Beach, an “In-Country” R&R.
I discovered photography in Vietnam and badly wanted a 35mm camera. I could buy the 35 mm camera– but then I couldn’t afford an out of country R&R. So I bought the camera and went to China Beach near DaNang. We surfed all day then got wasted every night listening to a Vietnamese Rock Band play American songs. They were awful musicians. We didn’t care!
Back in the World! After processing all night long at Ft. Lewis, Washington- we were released in brand new uniforms and officially out of the Army. The date was 2 July 1971. As we were getting on the Bus, I shouted, “Wait, we need a picture!” — The bus driver took my camera and then others and shot the group photo above. — Then he drove us to SeaTac International Airport– and off to civilian life we went! ( 11 days later I would be in summer school at the University of Texas at Austin )
Ft. Campbell Gander Memorial Service:Some 14 years later in 1985, I was working on a political story on Capitol Hill. The news desk editor called and told me that members of my former division had been in an airplane crash in Gander, Newfoundland. He asked if I wanted to go to Ft. Campbell for the Memorial service. (As if there was any question?? Of course!) He said, “yes we figured you would want to go”. The soldiers, most of them from the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, crashed shortly after taking off from a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. All 248 soldiers and the plane’s eight crew members were killed.
The Memorial Service was on Dec. 15/16 1985. It was bitter cold that day. In the 20’s with 9-10 mph winds. (I looked it up!) The division was formed on the parade field for hours. And we in the press stayed in the stands for hours. Above: A 105mm howitzer was fired every 5 minutes, marking the loss of one soldier
Steeped in history, it is an honor to have been a “Screaming Eagle” of the 101st Airborne Division.
Above: Professionally I returned to Vietnam in 1995. We shot a documentary at the 20-year point of the war’s end. It was an amazing trip. We traveled the entire country. Photo. Above: –POW/MIA recovery dig near Haiphong in the north
Above: Mike Whatley left, Vietnamese government official and interpreter in Center with Retired North Vietnamese Infantry Colonel Nguen Quoc Khan. He was a big deal. How I got to talk with him still boggles my mind. We stayed in his hotel in Hue. Retired at the time of photo–He was dressed in uniform for a military parade that morning, that was held in honor of General Võ Nguyên Giáp.
I shot this photo of General Vo Nguyen Giap in Hue, on March 24, 1995. It was pouring rain and he was under a reviewing stand roof. I was in the rain and I could not believe my good fortune. Security allowed me within about 20 feet of the General. Many historians regard Giap as one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century. I knew that as I pressed the shutter. I had read Bernard Fall’s “Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu” in college. And this elderly soldier, in full uniform on the platform that rainy day was the Commander that defeated the French in 1954. He was a hugely important military figure in the lives of all of us who went to Vietnam. (I shot the photo in a downpour with my small point n shoot film camera and then I prayed the image would come out. — Image above is cropped.)
Above: The statue of now Senator John S. McCain, where he was captured as his parachute dropped him in Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi. It was a pretty heavy moment to stand before this statue. I think of it often now as he lays dying of brain cancer in Arizona.
Above: The young men in this photo were in their 20’s in 1995. Even then their posture, expressions and confidence showed. I wish I could interview them now.
ABOVE: 1986 Photo of Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp and Infantry Colonel Nguyen Quoc Khan. The day we left Hue in 1995, Colonel Khan gave me the photo above with an inscription on the back.
The series “20 Years since the Fall” won 2 Regional Emmy’s.
ln 1995 Jan Scruggs (President of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund) hosted a luncheon in Rosslyn, Va.– It was held in the Key Bridge Marriott on the top floor. The view is fantastic, overlooking the Potomac toward the “Wall”. Those of us fortunate enough to attend were given this commemorative knife. In many ways to me– it represents the final act of the Vietnam War.
You are 20 years old, Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, seated in the open door of a Huey helicopter launched on aCA (Combat Assault by Air)— There are five other Soldiers seated on the floor of the ship with you. Helmeted/Sun Visored Door gunners man M-60 machine gun’s on the left and right rear of the cabin. There are five other Huey’s to put your platoon into the bush. You are on the third aircraft as they fly in a line. Your Mission: Go Kill the enemy in the Jungle of Vietnam near the Ashau Valley. Flight time about 15 minutes.The beauty of the Jungle stretches to the horizon. A hot wind blows in your face as the ship flies at 100 knots skimming the treetops.
Looking out forward you seeF-4′(FighterBombers) pounding the hill you are going to land on in about 2 minutes. There may be Dinks( the term US GI’s used ) on that hill., There may not be.
That last 2 minutes in the air, is the definition of anxiety. As the Helicopter approaches the hilltop to land the pilot flares the ship ( to “flare” a Helicopter the pilot puts the nose of the chopper up and reduces speed quickly and gently brings the descending aircraft to a hover at anywhere from 2-8 feet above the ground in the ideal.)
I always preferred to be first off the ship from about 4-6 feet. Remember the infantry soldiers are carrying rucksacks on their back weighing anywhere from 30-50 pounds. This does not include weapons and ammo. And it is during that final approach, the flaring of the aircraft, that’s when you learn all pilots are not equal. There may be smoke or even fire on the LZ ( the Landing Zone), maybe a couple of Cobras on-station (Helicopter Gun Ships) —-The Door Gunners on your ship, swivel their weapons, watching the LZ closely as the descent begins. If you have an experienced combat pilot he’s going to come in fast, flare and drop you from 4-6 feet off the ground. He did his part (getting you in fast and close to the ground ) — Now you (Grunts) do your part — Get the Fuck out of the ship! –— (Where is the rest of the unit? In the near tree line? In that clump of elephant grass ? Were you paying attention to the ground as you came in? Did you see how the first 2 Choppers went in?). Again I prefer to be in the open door if not on the skid as my launch point to disembark. Get a Nod from the crew chief if you want to stand on the skid during approach. In the open door, you will be able to gauge how the Pilot brings the ship in and leap to the ground — (There is an art to this, too long to go into here– ) It is at this moment when you jump to the ground that is an inexplicable high!! …..Once hitting the ground, the roar of the ship is deafening as the rest of the team exits the Chopper. There is now a partial sense of relief...” Well, I’m on the ground and no one is shooting at me yet”. As you run to join the rest of the platoon, the tremendous aircraft engine noise fades away as the last ship in departs the LZ. Suddenly it’s very quiet. Listen! If there is No small arms fire that is a good sign!!…… the Pink Team or an O-2 may still be on-station, but your immediate environment is now quieter and easier to interpret. One key to staying alive in the jungle is noise discipline. Don’t make unnecessary noise! Communicate by whisper or hand signal. Once the platoon Sergeant has the unit organized, we move out Going who knows where…. In my experience, the majority of CA’s were not met with enemy resistance. Thankfully! Yet that last 2 minutes on the ship and the first couple of minutes on the ground are the most fun, exciting, gut-wrenching and stimulating time of your short life. Professionally I was a Network level TV News cameraman for 20 years. —– but nothing in my life experience, ever matched the RUSH of going in on a Helicopter CA in a Slick as a member of an Infantry unit. Believe it or not…. it could be addictive!
Many in the infantry received the Blue and Orange ribbon “Air” Medal awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.”. I remember when my Platoon Sgt. handed me my orders as a recipient of the Air Medal. No Ceremony. No Handshake. Just “here you go“. When I look at my framed Air Medal hanging on a wall in my home, it is that last 2 minutes Inbound on the chopper that comes back to me. The whap-whap-whap of the Huey, the hot air in my face, the sound of the fighter-bombers, the stomach in knots, and the leap to the ground….
I remember it all, even now as an old man…..
Mike Whatley / 101st Airborne Division / I Corps Vietnam. 70-71
I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. The Division Area of Operation or AO was designated as I Corps. 4 Maps below to get you there. Why the maps? Because Geography matters. Climate and geography LINK HERE
Map 1. shows where Vietnam is on the Global Map.
Map 2: The Shortest flight path from the USA to Vietnam is 8,584 miles
Map 3: depicts the region of South East Asia at large and the arrow point to the specific part of Vietnam my unit worked in.
Map 4 Depicting the area the 101st Airborne was assigned to. The important features are the Firebases in the center (Birmingham, Veghel, and Bastogne) and of course the famous Ashau Valley where the Division saw significant combat. (During my time in Vietnam–70-71 I never went into the Ashau on a mission.)
(This piece was prompted after reading multiple articles about Veteran “drop-out — Flunk-0ut” rates. 2017. )
Hey Vets! Listen up! Repeat after me. “I am not special”. I know you’ve been told how awesome you are. Indeed there is a 24/7 propaganda machine and dozens and dozens of hand-wringing Veteran advocate groups that say you are “special” or even more absurd “You are Heroes!” Get that out of your head! It’s just “noise” and it won’t help you find a career/job. Start by being ready to do whatever it takes to get a position. And go wherever you must. If you live in a rust-belt region—then leave. Location matters! Get out now! Leave Ohio, Indiana, W. Va. Western PA, Western NY etc.Do I really need to explain this?If you insist on staying in these backwater regions then stop reading now. We live in a Globalized Knowledge Worker economy. USA manufacturing is down. There are a reported 6 million positions open in the USA for educated highly skilled employees. Is that you?? Decide on the career. Be ready to take a job that you feel overqualified for. If you were an infantry platoon Sgt. then you may need to pull out your Spec. 4 insignia for a time. Tune out the drumbeat of how “amazing” military leaders are. The US military churns out many inspiring “leaders”. For most Vets that is irrelevant. Don’t cling to what you were. It’s about what you want to be that matters. Don’t look back. Your military service is over. Done. Gone. Take from it what you will…but don’t let being a “Veteran” become your identity. Oh, and those of you without college degrees??? You’ve got an even steeper hill to climb. Those who chant “college degrees are a waste of money” are wrong. It’s no secret. Education matters!! No degree? Study after study —- affirm that the college graduate will make hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifetime earnings more than the non-graduate. Oh! And by the way. Guess where the majority of Vets waste their GI Bill education benefits?? #1 is On-line degree mills. The University of Phoenix is a favorite among Veterans to flush their education benefits. The majority of vets don’t complete these programs and they don’t learn much. Then they join class-action suits in an attempt to recover their squandered money. So don’t bother getting involved with online learning until you’ve demonstrated academic achievement in a university or other traditional learning setting. I know it’s a quaint idea. Actually going to class, taking notes, going to the library and you know, studying! It’s so analog! Do it! You have the most generous education benefits ever offered. Use them as if you’re in a desperate firefight and they are your last ammo magazine. Yes, you need LinkedIn and it’s enormous reach. And other social media tools as well. But I’d tune out most of the “We’re here to help” Veteran groups. Most Americans know little of the military yet they are eager to “Thank You for your service”. But you are moving on from that life……..aren’t you??? Oh, and after you’ve found that new career??…get ready to go through the process again and again. Welcome to the ranks of the “Lifelong learner” If you don’t embrace lifelong education, your chance of success diminishes. Go forth!