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"I was the first of the First [Division] to set foot in Vietnam." (Video Interview, Part 1, 1:10)

   Leonard L. Boswell
Image of Leonard L. Boswell
Leonard Boswell [2003]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 250th Field Artillery Rocket Battalion; Headquarters, 3rd Army Missile Command; Headquarters Battery, 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 28th Field Artillery
Service Location: Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Wolters and Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Germany; Fort Riley, Kansas; Ban Me Thuot, Pleiku, Soc Trang, and Can Tho, Vietnam; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Lisbon, Portugal; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
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Drafted on his 22nd birthday in 1956, Leonard Boswell determined to make the most of his service, applying to Officers Candidate School, eventually gravitating toward aviation. He trained on fixed-wing aircraft, then on helicopters. Eight years in, he decided to make a career out of the Army. By 1965, he was in command of a helicopter battalion assigned to Vietnam and claims to be the first man in the Army's storied First Division to set foot in that country. He did two one-year tours during that war and was frustrated with the lack of discernible progress on his second tour. Boswell retired from the Army in 1976 and was elected to the U.S. Congress from the Third District in Iowa in 1996. As of 2009, he was still serving.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (16 clips)
»Complete Interview  (178 min.)
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»Helicopters: The Multi-Mission Aircraft
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (16 items)
Going through hoops to get into Officers Candidate School; wanted better income, since he was married with a child; six months of OCS was "very tough." (03:02) Humorous story about demonstrating rockets at Ft. Benning by putting an M50 firecracker inside the nose cone; deciding to substitute a smoke grenade; a demonstration for a 3-star general causing the general to spill hot coffee on his uniform; Boswell getting off without any trouble. (02:59) Encouraged to make a career in the Army; a colonel taking a personal interest in him; being fast-tracked; everyone else, including his wife, knew about it. (03:33)
How he got into flight school; he had always wanted to fly airplanes; going to Texas, then Ft. Rucker, Alabama for his training in fixed-wing. (02:54) Assigned to helicopter school; training at Camp Walters; amazed at the number of helicopters there; flying the H23, a bubble-style craft that seated three across; learning to hover was the hardest part of training; graduating first in his class, as he had in fixed- wing. (03:18) In Europe, after graduating from jump school, was on a massive exercise when the Berlin Wall went up; they were issued live ammunition and for about 24 hours it seemed they might go to Berlin to stop construction; hearing years later about documents uncovered in the Soviet archives suggesting that if the American troops had tried to stop the construction, the East Germans would have backed down. (01:32)
Visit to Dachau, with a German couple who were children during the war; "shattering" experience; German couple ashamed that "their people" had done this. (01:54) Evolution of his decision to stay in the Army as a career; "they train you, and you owe them." (00:49) Assigned to assault helicopter company, introduced to Hueys; in 1965; Secretary of Defense McNamara going on a fact-finding mission resulting in decision to deploy more helicopters in Vietnam; his wife not happy about his leaving; bought a farm in Iowa so she could pursue an education degree; sent on advance party with the 82nd and 101st Airborne; being the first person in the First Division to set foot in Vietnam. (07:08)
Duties of the 52nd Aviation Battalion: mostly transferring troops; describing the lay of the land; concern with areas that were protected and no-fire zones—unless you received fire from there; no front line; rescuing a downed pilot from the ocean, though they had no training or equipment; turned out the pilot was not supposed to be flying that day, as his tour of duty was winding down. (09:09) As Operations Officer, planning their operations against the enemy; training Korean troops; how conditions changed over the year he was there; many more numbers; missions took him all over the country; narrowly escaping a potential ambush situation by changing original plan; didn't take much fire to bring down his helicopters. (08:04) Uneasy feeling when he left Vietnam after his first tour: lack of progress or accomplishment. (00:35)
His second tour of duty in Vietnam two years after coming home; different operations area, in the delta; search and destroy missions, using new, experimental tactics; working with small helicopters that were very maneuverable and carried a lot of firepower; how things had changed since he'd left; approached on the plane over for advice by first- timers who knew he'd already been in country; when he first landed, it felt like he'd never left; dissent from back home hadn't really filtered through. (06:52) Rescue of James Rowe, five-year captive of Vietnamese; Rowe's first concern when he was picked up was about his back pay; he was later in the Philippines in a military advisory group and was assassinated. (05:19) In second tour, terrain was very different, more difficult to navigate; began to hear more about drug problems. As Commanding Officer, he had to write letters to families of men killed in action. (02:17)
Teaching in 1969 at a college in southern Iowa; confronting a student protesting Boswell's appearance on a panel convened on a day of antiwar demonstration; his antagonist had served in Vietnam but in an air-conditioned office. (07:42)  
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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