Col Bill Haponski Forum

COL BILL HAPONSKI - My Tour of Duty Jan - Jul 1969

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Bio, Bill Haponski Several former 1/4 Cav troopers have asked what I did before and after 1/4 Cav, so I'll briefly list some highlights. 1932 Born in a farmhouse outside Ilion, NY 1956 Commissioned from West Point; Married to Sandra Grogan. Armor Officer Basic Course, Ft. Knox. 1957 Airborne, Ft. Benning; Tank Plt Ldr, 35th Armor, 4th Armored Div, Ft. Hood. Daughter Maura born. 1958 - 60 Aerial Observer, Tank Plt Ldr, Scout Plt Ldr, Tank Company XO, Asst S-3, S-3, 1st Med Tk Bn, 35th Armor, Erlangen, Germany. 1960 - 61 Tank Company Cmdr, USATCA, Ft. Knox. 1961 - 62 Armor Officer Advanced Course, Ft. Knox. 1962 - 64 Cornell University, MA, English Language & Literature. 1964 - 67 Faculty, English Dept, West Point; summers Grad school, Cornell. 1967 - 68 CGSC, Ft. Leavenworth; Ph. D. in English, Cornell. Jul 68 - Dec 68 Asst S-3, S-3, XO 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Vietnam (opcon to 1st Inf Div), Hq Lai Khe then Bien Hoa; Blackhorse base camp Xuan Loc. Jan 69 - Jul 69 CO 1/4 Cav, 1st Inf Div, Vietnam; Hq Di An, Lai Khe, field locations. 1969 - 71 Faculty, English Dept, West Point. 1971 - 75 Professor of Military Studies, ROTC, U Vermont, Burlington. Summers, Dep Cdr, ROTC Basic Camp, Ft. Knox. 1975 - 78 Professor of Military Science, ROTC, Fordham U, NYC. Summers, Evaluator, ROTC Advanced Camp, Ft. Bragg. Daughter Maura, Yale student & member of U S Winter Olympic Team, luge, Innsbruck, Austria. Retired 1978, Colonel 1978 - 81 Executive Vice President and Dean of the College, Utica College of Syracuse University, Utica, NY 1981 - 87 Educational consultant, author, NY and Florida. 1987 - 96 Adjunct Professor, business and technical communication subjects (both Sandra and I), NY and Florida. 1996 - 99 Research & Marketing Manager, automation & robotics company, Utica NY 1999 - present Research, writing. Retire? Never, I hope. Sandra and I live in the summer at 401 Rider Road, Clayville, NY 13322. In the winter we RV to Ft. Hood, Texas with our family -- 5 wonderful cats, all cast-offs and strays. Sandra taught school for several years while we moved from one place to another, then was an adjunct college professor. Maura's career since graduating from Yale in 1978 has been in banking as a VP for large commercial banks in California; then in marketing � establishing her own company -- then with KPBS Public Broadcasting System of San Diego, and now she is a consultant with Corporation for Public Broadcasting out of D. C. Her husband Steve Cornell is a Ph. D. who has taught at Harvard, UC San Diego, and is now Director of the Udall Institute, U Arizona, Tucson. We have been blessed.


THE OTHER WAR - PACIFICATION AND VIETNAMIZATION, Di An District


This is a transcript of my audio tape to my wife Sandra, and my 11-year old daughter Maura, on 25 and 26 February 1969. From July through Dec 1968 I was S-3, then XO of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, opcon to 1st Inf Div. The 11th Cav operated generally along Route 13, from Quan Loi in the north, through Lai Khe in the center, south to Bien Hoa/Long Binh, and east through War Zone D to Xuan Loc. The area was varied, with both dense jungle and open areas. The hamlets generally were fewer, smaller, and farther out from cities than those in Di An District, and initially they were VC controlled and occupied. The 11th Cav did much to change that. In July 1968 General Abrams assumed command from General Westmoreland and immediately instituted pacification and Vietnamization as first priority for U S units. In the 11th Cav, just prior to my coming to 1/4 Cav, I was responsible for planning and executing both combat operations and the pacification/Vietnamization program. Then from Jan through mid-July 1969, I was CO of 1/4 Cavalry, 1st Inf Div. >From Jan - mid March you may recall that our area of operations basically was Di An District of Bien Hoa Province, with about 35 hamlets and 50,000 residents. If my optimism in this tape now sounds somewhat strange, given what happened after American forces were withdrawn, recall that the July 1968 - July 1969 time frame marked the peak of the American buildup with 550,000 men committed in Vietnam. None of us knew that at the very time this tape was made, our government was committing to a precipitate withdrawal of American troops. 1/4 Cav fought two very different wars. One was the pacification/Vietnamization of Di An District. The other, beginning in mid-March, was combat against major NVA units to the west of Lai Khe. The following tape transcript is one of my assessments. If you would like, I will send you other short segments of my materials as I transcribe them. AB: 25 Feb. Hello girls. Today is the 25th of February. I just received your tape that was made on the 18th and enjoyed it very much. You had lots of interesting things which I'll comment on as I can remember them. I usually jot down things that I feel bear comment, and I have a list in front of me so I try not to forget things. You have probably heard [clearing throat, guardedly] by way of the news that the communist offensive apparently is now underway that we've been expecting since last May, and which they've been unable to launch. Usually, as you know, I don't talk about these things, but I thought you might just be a little worried, and I wanted to allay any of your fears because in this area it doesn't amount to too much. Bien Hoa and Long Binh have been hit by rockets and mortars, but the casualties have been very minimal, very very light, and the VC forces have suffered terribly. The 11th Cav has had some actions in which they've mopped up a good many VC forces with uh no casualties to themselves. But uh I know how the newspapers blow things up, and I just wanted to assure you that things in this area don't seem to be much above normal, although of course we're especially alert at this time, and presumably sooner or later we'll have some kind of activity. But uh the communist forces are flat on their asses so far as military strength is concerned. They're, in my opinion, just about washed up. This is the kind of last gasp thing that we anticipated. The attacks are terribly uncoordinated, naive things in which they're suffering greatly in the attacks. Whole units are being wiped out, as I say at almost no losses to ourselves. There was only one bad encounter in which a US unit way away from here was overrun uh through their own error apparently, tactically, and that's the only thing that they can claim as a victory [power drops and sentence ends high-pitched]. AB: 26 Feb. It seems that every time I start taping, the power goes off, and that's the reason why the pitch grows. And in fact the power went off for quite a while yesterday. Our generators are old, and we have a lot of trouble with them so I have ceased work, or I did yesterday, on the tape, and it's now the 26th, the next day [pitch is still somewhat high]. I've been out this morning, watching some range firing which we have to do for -- to keep the interest up and to ensure that our weapons are in good shape. I've just recently instituted this program. The troops seem to enjoy it. It's not at all like range firing in the States where you have varicolored helmet liners and many targets, safety officers, and so on and so on and so on. It's no great production. We just go out in the field and get an area cleared and start shooting. And so I was up there on an extremely dusty trip, on the back roads, riding my ACAV with the dust just boiling up all over. So when I came back I was just white. I've cleaned up now and I thought I would continue a little bit with a discussion of the situation. The military situation so far as the South Vietnamese forces and our own are concerned is extremely good. We've improved tremendously in our capability for response. In the Di An District, for instance, which comprises most of my area of operations, the [VC] forces since the last May offensive, the Second Tet as they call it, of last year have dwindled to the point to where there are only a scattered few left. In actions around here, either we or the district forces, mostly the district forces, acting upon intelligence given to them by their informers in all of their hamlets, have managed to pick up one or two [VC] on occasion, and these one or two start talking and they lead to three or four more, and so on so forth until at the current time the district enjoys a great deal of security. Things are going on very much as normal. One can drive around these roads, there are no mines in them, no snipers, no claymores alongside the roads, at least we haven't had any of these incidents since about last October, last October was the last scattered few of those. So the few VC that are hanging on are greatly demoralized, and they're harassed at all times. We have units going through their hamlets every day, and we have district forces staying in them now at night, which is an improvement. People feel secure, and they're not afraid to talk to us. They're no longer paying taxes to the Viet Cong through fear. They in fact refuse them now and know that they can get protection. So things have improved just tremendously in the six, seven months that I've been here. When I first came, that was just about the end of major communist threats and the beginning of a period of increased security and the beginning of the pacification program whereby we attempted to get back out into these hamlets that had been largely dominated by the VC, not so much through permanent stationing of forces in there, but through their freedom of movement. They could go in them, collect their taxes, take forced laborers, assassinate hamlet chiefs, and we have, I feel, effectively stopped that kind of activity. Roads are springing up all over here. I have a very active civil affairs program in the squadron in which we pump about two thousand dollars a month -- which goes a long way over here, into such things as schools, school equipment, wells for the villagers, repair of roads, repairs of shrines and schools, building of hamlet offices, government facilities of all kinds. My troops go out and assist in some of these projects. Right now, for instance, we're putting telephones and radios in the hamlets in Di An District which are excess to my requirements and which will greatly improve the district forces in their ability to communicate, consequently to improve the security of the hamlets. The nighttime movie program is going very well. Every third night we put movies into the hamlets, and the villagers enjoy them tremendously. Prior to the movie we have a band concert by the 1st Division band, and of course most of the villagers, until we started this program, had never seen such things as a band concert and movies. The movies are of many kinds. The Walt Disney nature movie is a favorite, cartoons, perhaps I've explained this all to you before, I don't recall, but forgive me if I have. There are some Vietnamese cartoons, Vietnamese sound tracks on some American movies, and then Vietnamese movies of geographical, historical, and governmental interests, some propaganda films of course, such as Chieu Hoi films, that is, rally to the South Vietnamese cause, based on a variety of themes. But we don't show too many of these. Mostly it's just entertainment and information. The people thoroughly enjoy it. Children mob the movie site, and we always try to pass out balloons or candy or something, and they enjoy it. One of the fascinating things for them is the motion picture projector itself. Between reels they mob around that and watch how the film is changed. So, as I say, with a fine, real fine District Chief, Major Chau, and his forces which are increasing in strength, getting better equipment, improving in their techniques, becoming more aggressive at all times, I think that there's a great future here in this area for the people. I believe that what has happened to the communist cause is that they've been driven back into the early 1960's stage in which guerrilla warfare was carried on. We can expect, because they can't mass forces and operate freely as they did before, that they will try to propagandize I think that this will fail they will try to terrorize, as they have been doing. They have been assassinating hamlet chiefs throughout South Vietnam, and this activity has picked up somewhat, although it's not a major problem at this time. They'll try throwing the grenades in the marketplaces and killing civilians, they'll shell the cities with what few mortar rounds they still have left after we've policed up most of them on our operations, and this is the kind of activity that we can expect for some time to come. In military terms, not a great threat. The greatest encouragement in all of this is the fine civic action program that is going on. Our own people and South Vietnamese government people are getting out into these hamlets, bringing technical skills that they've needed for so long, teaching them how to farm better there's a new brand of rice, for instance, which gives two crops a year instead of only one, and about eight times the yield of the old rice, so this is being introduced, which should have tremendous impact on the economy. There are small businesses springing up, a lot of trade unfortunately much of it dependent upon the American presence at the current time, but this will pass with time. New houses are being built, very attractive ones, and just in general things are very optimistic or I'm very optimistic for the South Vietnamese people.


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