Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Vietnam War Veterans Recall Major Moments ; China Beach Landing, Tet Offensive, Tonkin Gulf to Be Discussed

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Vietnam War Veterans Recall Major Moments ; China Beach Landing, Tet Offensive, Tonkin Gulf to Be Discussed

Article excerpt

Vietnam War veteran Bob Aufdemberge recalls the solid rain of red tracer rounds pouring down from American helicopters onto enemy soldiers during the nationwide Tet offensive, then an AK-47 round striking him in the thigh.

Don Debarge, a Marine sergeant, remembers Marines walking ashore from landing craft at China Beach in 1965, the moment considered to be the start-up of the massive buildup in the American ground war.

Richard Schultz, a U.S. Navy lieutenant, was among the squadron of destroyers at Tonkin Gulf, then heard the snap of bullets fired at his small river patrol boat during fighting on the muddy rivers of South Vietnam.

The three will be on a panel discussing the Vietnam War at "Honoring Our Veterans." The event will be 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 S.W. 10th. Admission is free.

People attending the program can view Vietnam War-era artifacts presented by 35th Division Infantry re-enactors. Starting at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 9, the Military Preservation Association will display military vehicles.

"It's been 50 years since we landed and 40 years since we left," Tad Pritchett said. "We want to commemorate that time with veterans presenting their involvement in the war."

Pritchett, a captain commanding infantry in the 3rd Marine Division in the war, will moderate the program.

Lt. Col. Roger Aeschliman, an Iraq War veteran, will speak on the topic that U.S. military forces won the skirmishes and battles in the Vietnam War, strategically accomplishing what it set out to do.

"Tet was a blow-out victory," Aeschliman said.

Aeschliman, who has been in the Army National Guard since 1986, served one-year tours in Iraq and Kosovo.

U.S. Navy Lt.

Richard Schultz

Schultz was aboard the U.S.S. Hooper, one of four destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to the east of North Vietnam, during the clash of the U.S.S. Maddox and U.S.S. Turner Joy with North Vietnamese patrol boats on Aug. 2, 1964.

The Hooper, which was equipped with a large sonar dish, was about 6 miles behind the Maddox and Turner Joy during the firefight between those destroyers and the enemy craft, Schultz said.

"We heard the motors or what we thought were motors," Schultz said. "It's unknown whether the motors were the patrol boats or torpedoes launched by the boats," he said.

Within days of the incident, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, supporting President Lyndon B. Johnson's determination to repel any armed attack against U.S. forces in Southeast Asia. Johnson used the measure to authorize escalation of the war.

In 1966, Schultz was an operations officer in the navy's patrol boat operations on South Vietnamese rivers. Schultz was in six to eight firefights on the Saigon River while he was posted out of Na Bea Base.

The boats were 31 feet long, 9 feet wide, had a 9-inch draft, and carried three .50-caliber machines, grenade launchers and small arms.

In his first firefight, "my legs were shaking when we got done," Schultz said. "I was glad to get out of that fight."

In the firefights, a crewman would see flashes, "and we'd hear the snap (of enemy fire) going past us," Schultz said.

The patrol boats returned fire and could summon help from "Puff the Magic Dragon," a cargo plane converted to fire four Gatling guns on the attackers.

Staff Sgt. Don

Debarge, 4th

Marine Regiment

Debarge, who earlier served a year in the Korean War starting in April 1952, arrived in February 1965 in South Vietnam. …

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