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Transcript of interview with Philip Thomas Randazzo [July 6, 2004]

James Pachucki:

Good Afternoon. Today is Tuesday, July 6, 2004. We are here with our veteran, Philip Thomas Randazzo who served his country in the Vietnamese war. We are at the offices of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program at 15945 Canal, Clinton Township, Michigan 48038. My name is Jim Pachucki and I will be the interviewer today. Our videographer is Joe Ramoge. Also in attendance, at least in part, is the Director of the RSVP program who is sneaking in the door. To start this, Philip, can you give us a little background? Where and when were you born, and where did you go to school?

Philip Randazzo:

I was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan at Cottage Hospital. I grew up first 15 years in Centerline, Michigan. I attended St. Clement Catholic School for 10 years. We moved, my parents moved, to Shelby Township in about 1960. I finished Utica High School in 1965.

James Pachucki:

Did you go into the military right after you got out of high school?

Philip Randazzo:

Well, it's kind of ironic you asked that. Because I was 18 in the 12th grade and that's when I received my first draft notice. Right after my physical. But my counselor got me out of the military because I was still in the 12th grade. Then, at the same time, I was in barber college also part time. So as soon as I got out of the 12th grade in June, I finished up my barber college full time and then they sent me another draft notice. Me, being a full-time student, I was deferred once again. Then the third draft notice come and that was about nine months. They gave me nine months' notice so that when I graduated from barber college I can't run to McComb Community College like everybody was doing at the time. So, the third draft notice, I received that one at 20 years old.

James Pachucki:

Where did you have to report to for your physical?

Philip Randazzo:

Ft. Wayne. That was when I was 18. When I was 20 years old, I had to report to Roseville on Gratiot and 10 Mile Road.

James Pachucki:

So you were inducted on what date?

Philip Randazzo:

That was May 8, 1967.

James Pachucki:

How did that induction happen? Was it at Ft. Wayne?

Philip Randazzo:

It was, yes, we all met at the draft board, #303 I believe it was, at 5 o'clock in the morning and then when we were registered in, then we were put on buses and transported downtown Detroit to Ft. Wayne. From that point you stripped down and walked through another physical. And then, at the end of the day, which was like 5-6 o'clock at night, they put us in a big movie theater, I don't know if it was the Fox Theater back then, or not. We were all in there and an officer was up on the stage said to take a step forward with the right hand raised, and that would be the oath of acceptance into the military. Those who didn't take a step forward, they were pulled out in the aisle and asked for the reasons why they didn't want to take a step. They had various reasons, all health concerned, so the physicals weren't really that great. They just sort of pushed you through. From that point, we were put on another bus and we went to the train station down in Detroit. We boarded the train and it took two days of backing up to get to Ft. Knox, Kentucky. We backed up more than we went forward. Took a long time. I think what they wanted to do to us is to keep us from sleeping and eating so that when we get down to Ft. Knox we're not coming out of a big spaghetti dinner we had at the house that same day. They started your discipline on the train.

James Pachucki:

So you took your basic at Ft. Knox.

Philip Randazzo:

I took basic training at Ft. Knox, that was eight or nine weeks, and it was jammed, Ft. Knox was jammed. They had GIs laying in between the barracks. There was a lot of mononucleosis going on. Just too many bodies in one spot. So you had to be careful not to breathe on each other. But the training was very, very, very intense training down there. They knew where we were going. They allocate so many men to Vietnam and so many men to Germany and so many men for Alaska. Apparently they knew where our group was going to go. It was very intense training. Once you graduate from that, which we had no weekend passes or three-hour passes, we had nothing. Once we graduated from that, my AIT, that's Advanced Individual Training, I stayed right at Ft. Knox. They had a reconnaissance training school there and that's where I was trained as a reconnaissance scout.

James Pachucki:

What does a reconnaissance scout do?

Philip Randazzo:

The main purpose of a scout is to locate the enemy, make contact with the enemy, and hold contact with the enemy until help arrives. We work in small units. The North Vietnamese, the Viet Cong, they operate at night only. We are out day and night in a unit. Looking for trouble, looking for the enemy. They're out there; you just have to cross their camps. When you cross their camps, they will attack us. We have to fight it out with them. That's the only way to get them out. If you are sitting in the base camps, you're not going to get anything accomplished. So there are a certain amount of men who have to stay out there 24/7. That's a recon scout. Recon scout, he does everything: ambushes; LP's, which are listening posts; OP's--observation posts; Samp;D's, which are search and destroys; tunnel work, which would describe a tunnel rat. Whatever there is to do to kill the enemy, or to locate the enemy, or to disrupt him, that's what our job was.

James Pachucki:

And this training was all at Ft. Knox?

Philip Randazzo:

It's all at Ft. Knox. Recon, reconnaissance training was done at Ft. Knox. At the General Disney Barracks, which were typical old Word War II barracks, modern red brick buildings, and everybody used to make fun, call them Disneyland. But it was far from being Disneyland. It was worse than boot camp. It was very, very, very rough because once you graduate boot camp then you are a soldier. Then they can go ahead and mistreat you all they want.

James Pachucki:

So this was a 12 week period?

Philip Randazzo:

That's about 10 weeks. About 10 weeks for recon training. Then you get mountain training in the mountains of Kentucky and I think it was a week or two weeks on that. We worked in three-man teams. Then once you graduate from that, now you got to remember that all this training from boot to AIT, you still never had a day pass yet. They don't want you to get soft. You cannot have no visitors from home either. Nobody can come and see you--no wives, no brothers, nobody can come and see you. If they do come and see you, you're in big trouble. That means you're gonna do a lot of KP, a lot of physical training. They kept your mind pretty well occupied. They kept you terrified really. We were terrified of our own DI's. But you got to plant that fear into a soldier so that when he does face an enemy, the enemy really doesn't mean that much to us. I feared the DI's more than I did the North Vietnamese.

James Pachucki:

So, after you completed the course of training, you were at Knox, then what happened?

Philip Randazzo:

I was sent home for 12 days. I had orders to report to Oakland, California. I was home for about 12 days and I couldn't take it in the house. My sister was already messed up. I couldn't eat the foods, everything was different and I had to leave. So I flew to California early, earlier than I had to. Then when I got there - I was there 5 days waiting for my port call number to come up, which is a number you receive. When that number's called, you enter an airplane and from that point, you fly over. I never heard the word Vietnam all this time. I didn't know what Vietnam meant at this time of my life. I went through all this training about killing this or killing that, or killing this, but I never heard of Vietnam yet. I was trained on M14's, but I never saw a M16, and I was trained on Ml14 APC's, plus other vehicles. When I got to Vietnam, there was no Ml14's over there, they called them Ml13 's. You see them pretty much on TV with the Israelis using them and now I think we are bringing them into the Iraqi-Afghanistan Theater, because it's a good vehicle. I didn't know the first thing about them vehicles, or an M16. Well anyhow the flight over was a quiet flight with all the GI's. Nobody knew where we were going. And then you land. It was Braniff Airlines at the time. We landed at Binh Hoa-I didn't know that then, I know that now--and then once you land, there's no airports or nothing over there, you just land on an air strip. We landed and then we disembarked and when you disembark, they tell you to go underneath the pavilion and stay under there. They had tables and you just sit there. They told you not to take no shirts off, not to drink no water, not to drink anything, not to pay attention to nobody but the sergeant who would come over and give us our speeches.

James Pachucki:

Did you have live ammunition at this point?

Philip Randazzo:

No, no. Nothing. Just a lot of heat. The heat was devastating when they opened up that door. It was very, very, very hot. From that point now, we are going to different barracks. They marched us to barracks in this Binh Hoa area. It was a holding area. I had orders from the 1100th Cav right in my hand. But after three days there, and you are fed C-rations, they start having no water, you have a duffle bag, a blister bag they called it, but if you look in it, it's just flooded with bugs and if you want water, you push em away real quick, throw the water in your face. So they start you out that way because they know what my MOS is, my Military Occupational Status, they know what that is. I'm not going to be living a very soft life over there for 12 months. So it's three days of that and finally my number was called again and I got on a C130. I sat on the floor of the C130, strapped to the floor. You look through the cracks; it's really funny looking through the cracks of this plane, you and a bunch of other guys. We didn't know that we were on our way to hell. I figured it would get a little easier than this place we just left. We were flying over and you could look down and you can see jungles and jungles and black stuff. Then you land into a base camp, but before landing they stated to us, "Hang on because we're going to drop." Because you can't gradually slow down descend over the jungle or you would be shot down in the air. We flew over a camp, which I didn't know what it was at the time, but that was base camp Cu Chi, headquarters for the 25th Infantry Division.

James Pachucki:

How do you spell it?

Philip Randazzo:

C-u C-h-i. That's the headquarters for the 25th. The 25th has three base camps there. So, when I got off the C130, I got off all by myself with my duffle bag and these orders in my hands, and now you're really hot. You're isolated, you're all by yourself now, nobody is around, nobody separates, goes in different directions, you're sinking into sand up to your knees and you can barely walk. I ended up by a chopper pad and the chopper pad had these helicopters that were all encircled by sandbags. As you're holding your orders and you're holding your duffle bag there, you ask, "Where's this at?" you know. They point: "Over there; keeping walking straight." You walk straight and it just gets worse. It looks like something real primitive. That happened to be a hooch, they call that an orderly room, and so I walked in there and I see a guy in there and I showed him my papers, and he said you belong here, in this unit. So he says, "I'm going to enroll you in the jungle bunny school," they call it. I didn't know what the hell he meant then, and then he said he was going to walk me over to this hooch, the tent. He told me to stay in this hooch here. I'm the only one here. It was like three or four tents with sandbags going up them and they were called hooches. I was the only one there, and then the clerk, and he was inside that orderly room. So he gave me a box of C rations and I'm more scared than anything. This was really terrifying. Being by yourself in these tents with bags and you can't go in the tent because its too hot and you can't breathe in the tent. So you kind of sit outside the tent and you hear the choppers and you hear the artillery going off at a distance from the camp itself. Then, in the morning, the orderly room clerk told me I have to walk over to the other side of the camp and start my jungle bunny school. So I walked to the other side of the camp and I had nothing with me. I sat in these bleachers and it was right on the edge of the barbed wire now of Cu Chi. Then these DI's take over and they train you, they teaching you booby traps; you're sitting in that heat, and they are teaching you how to get used to that heat. You're ordered not to take no shirts off for three days; you have to keep them on. Otherwise you'll fry, and then you're in big trouble. Then they teach us about the weapons the enemy has, all the different types of weapons, the different types of uniforms, the weapons that we have, the attack dogs that are used-they're all in front of you trying to intimidate us with attack dogs. Very crude training, very crude. And that lasted five days. It was a five-day ordeal. Five o'clock you walk back to your orderly room again, into your camp area, and you still don't know what the hell is going on. You are all by yourself. It's not like you have everybody around you; you are still by yourself. You come back to the orderly room and see the clerk. At about the third night, this was really something; this scared the hell out of me. The third night, I walked over to the orderly room and I'm standing inside watching and it says ammunition cans, or boxes, they're desks made out of boxes of ammos, and he has a chalk board. I am on this side of the boxes and he's got 1st\ 2nd and 3rd platoons. He's got seven vehicles marked off. 2021, 22 and 23 and it goes on, 3rd Platoon is 3031, and the 1st is 1001. Anything with 123 is for 1st, 2nd, 3rd platoon. So you can hear him screaming on his radio and I was standing there listening, I could hear these guys screaming and yelling and everything else, and I am watching him and he picks up the chalk and he is erasing and putting WIA's, KIA's underneath these vehicles, and I'm watching him. And that was all over with. That stopped. He straightened out and I said "I hate to bother you, but what's all that stuff there?" He said, "Well that's Charlie troop." I said "Where are they at?" He says "They're right here. They'll be in. You'll be mounting up and going with them." I said, "Mounting up and going where? I thought I was going to stay here in this camp. That there," I said, "what does WIA mean?" He says, "That there are the ones that got wounded, two here and so on." I said, "What's a KIA?" And he says, "Four dead here, three dead here, three dead here." I asked what was killing them and he said, "Charlie." I had no knowledge of anything. They don't teach you the enemy. They teach you to get physically in shape. They teach you weaponry. They teach you to obey. The main thing they teach you is to obey the commands. You can't open your mouth whatsoever. So, I had five days of that school. On the sixth day, this unit, I can hear these tanks and APCs come rolling in and I'm standing there looking at these animals and you see the dust kicking up, the dirty, filthy trash. I wasn't used to that at Ft. Knox. Everything there was oiled down and shiny. These are animals coming in, and the guys, you couldn't recognize them. There was so much dirt lined on their faces, into their ears, into their nose. They were just embedded, crusted in filth. I never seen nothing like that. Now, when they came in, I was inside the tent. These animals come in and they took off their pants, they took off their shirt and they laid naked on these air mattresses. Then the cook comes in with mail for them. I was scareder than hell, because I'm in here with these things. I don't know, what the hell, it was a small tent. There was a tent for each platoon. These learning experiences here, they put a lot of fear into you. Where the enemy, he can't instill that kind of fear that the military can. That unit, some guys were in that unit -- matter of fact, a guy was leaving. My birthday was October 4. I got there about September 28, my birthday was October 4 and I was turning 21. Another guy, he was yelling, his birthday's today. They were going to try and get some beer. I said, "What day is it?" And he's a Puerto Rican from Puerto Rico. He says, "October 4." I said it was my birthday. I didn't want to talk too loud. I talked softly to these guys. I says, "I'm 21" and he says, "That's what I am, I'm 21. I go home tomorrow." I said, "Oh, shoot," I says. These guys were very, very animalistic, animalistic type of humans. I ain't seen nothing like that. No uniforms, nothing looked military at all. Then I was issued my M16. They're all broken up. No hand guards on them, the butts were cracked up. Nothing pretty, nothing pretty at all. Then the sun rose and they says, "Mount up." Then all the guys mounted up on the tracks and tanks. In my platoon there was a lead tank and rear tank, M48 tanks. And then there's five APCs, which are MI13's-there's five in the center.

James Pachucki:

Armored personnel carrier.

Philip Randazzo:

Armored personnel carriers. I was in the lead scout track behind the tank. It was Charlie 2-1; that was Track 2-1, Charlie Troop Second Platoon. There's three platoons in a troop, a troop is a company, but in the cavalry it's a troop. We were the same thing as when you see them riding out of the forts. The cowboys, the cavalry. That's what we were, we're the cavalry. And even back then, you see, the cavalry leaves the fort, they don't come back for weeks later. We stayed out. That's what we were, the cavalry. So, I was in a three-quarter cavalry, 3/4 Cav. So we rode out the next morning. I went out and I am following these guys to this motor pool and you're sinkin' in dust like I said, it was the dry season. I am standing there and Sergeant Dolan said to me--I didn't know who he was, but he just yelled at me--and said to get up on his track. I am up on his track. There is one .50 caliber, one .60 caliber and one .60 caliber--there's three machine guns on it. So he asked me when I got up, he said, "I want you to mount that machine gun." Then he asked what was the worst thing that happened to me. I didn't know what he wanted. He said "Bobby," I don't why he called me that, "Bobby, have you ever been in cars or anything?" I said, "You know, I hit the windshield at 60 miles an hour." He said, "OK, then you'll be able to take a mine. You'll be all right then." I didn't even know what the hell the guy was talking about. So, we head out down the road from Cu Chi; we head out--make a left at the main gate-and then we head out of Cu Chi. Then the main gate opens up. They got bunker guards at the gates. They had big quad 50s-four 50 calibers. So as soon as we get to the gate they says, "OK, lock and load em." I didn't know what he meant. So we loaded up and I followed what everybody else does and locked up the safety. All you gotta do is pull the trigger. So we left that day and I don't know when I came back, how many months later I came back. That was about October 5th. My first real firefight was about the 28th of October. That was at night. They hit us in a village as we patrolled through. They hit us with the RPGs. My sergeant at that time dismounted and left me in charge of the track, where I didn't know a damn thing. I didn't know nothing. Then they ordered us to charge the hooches and drive through. I couldn't tell the driver because I didn't have a helmet on, I didn't have orders, I didn't know how this game is played. They didn't teach us that in the States. So I had to learn. But you gotta remember now that a lot of these guys they'd been in battle for three months, some for nine months, some been there seven months, some been there 11 months. So you got guys that'll kill you in a minute if you screw up. They are mean guys. They had been mean in the beginning. Mostly they are draftees. Everybody in my unit was draftees. They don't want the 17, 18, 19-year-old kids on these vehicles. They want the older ones that are married and have children and businesses back home. That's who they want on these vehicles. So, I was actually called the kid. I was 21; I was called the kid. They ranged all the way up to 26, and I think a wife and two kids. Sometimes you got your lifers, they come in, TDY guys, temporary duty stations, they want to fly over. I had one sergeant; I got stuck with him. Because his brother was a prisoner of war, he was in the reserves; he wanted to come over and kill so many-he had a number he wanted to kill. But, I still wasn't as scared of the enemy. I was scared of my own guys. Then after a while, you become one of them. This is where your body, your mind changes. You're filthy. You got rot all over your feet and rot in your crotch. Your hair - because you don't get haircuts once a week, and you are out there all the time, you're separate from the army. You're altogether separate. You don't belong to the real Army that I seen. You never get food; you get your C-rations. But sugar cane-we depended a lot on sugar cane. If you run across sugar cane, you chop so much of it up, two foot lengths and we kind of pile it up on the side of our tracks. And then we chew on that. C-rations, you kind of stretched them out because you don't know when they are going to bring them out to us. They don't like coming out to us, the choppers, because they give our positions away. We were a self-contained unit. That's why we could stay out, because we had two tanks. We have a motor track, which has a four deuce motor in it. We have a lieutenant with the medic. We have one infantry track and we got two scout tracks. So what we are is a self-contained unit. We could fight through the night and fight through the day and continue fighting. We're infantry, all infantry, mechanized units, all mech infantry, all 113s. The Army used all tanks. Nobody's self contained but the cavalry.

James Pachucki:

How much ammunition did you carry with you?

Philip Randazzo:

You carry a lot of ammo inside your vehicles. You carry a good supply of ammo in your vehicles. You're loaded up pretty good. Actually, that's what saves us a lot is the ammo cans. I know in Iraq right now they're hitting a lot of what they call IEDs; they're just booby traps, they're mines. You can clean it up, but it's just a mine. We had three layers of sand bags on the bottom of our vehicles so that we could take a mine. Then on top of the sand bags we had .50 calibers boxes, and we got .60 caliber boxes. We have nothing else in there. We did have - the walls were strung with hand grenades, white phosphorous, HE.

James Pachucki:

What is HE?

Philip Randazzo:

High explosives. Your regular hand grenades are HE rounds, you got your (?), your white phosphorous rounds. I think they were canister rounds. We got a string that runs along from this side to that side and on this side you got this string which gives me, as I'm shootin', we get hit, it gives me an opportunity to just reach in and grab a grenade, because you get close where your 60 can't bend down and you gotta get them off your vehicle before they jump up on you. So, all the cotter pins are straightened out and the wire goes right through all the loops. We tie them on and we just pull them, just pull. The pin will stay on the line. We had to do our own thinking how to survive. You're not taught this. You teach yourself. The enemy won't teach you because you are getting too close. You can't depend on the M16's because they're not going to work. They'll jam up on you. We had the initial first ones. So you have your .60's. Them guns can really do a lot of talking. You are not going to get jammed on a .60 and your .50s. Probably is sitting up high you could get shot off, though. The problem is you are going to get shot off. You're sitting on top; you're a good target. You've got the noises of the engine, you got the noises of three guns, and it is hard to hear the enemy's bullets coming at you. So you try to pick up flashes or green tracers, they use green tracers, or the muzzle flash. You try to listen for the direction and distance of the bullets. Once you have been out there so long, you get good. You really get good out there. They'll teach you. They'll teach you. That's why I look at this [Iraq] war, these poor [?], they're not fighting all the time. You gotta get in there and mix it with them.

James Pachucki:

How long were you out there? You said October 5th, and you were out there for two months, three months?

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah.

James Pachucki:

And then you come back in.

Philip Randazzo:

Well, that depends. Sometimes they lie to us and say we have a three-day stand to go in but they lie. You don't go in. That makes you angry. They send out the chopper with some nurses on it and tell us if we donate a pint of blood, that we can go back to the base camp for a day. Twenty-four hours, you get a cookie. Man! So we all gave blood. They took off in the chopper and we wondered when we were gonna turn around and go back in, but they never did. So now, we're traveling all night long patrolling in the dark, right, with a pint short. Now we're a pint short already, you see. Now what's that do to a person? What does it do?

James Pachucki:

It makes you tired.

Philip Randazzo:

Makes you tired. Not only that, but where is the enemy? Where's Charlie? You want to kick somebody's ass now. You are really getting more and more, you're bent out of shape. You can't wait until till the son of a bitch hits you.

James Pachucki:

Where do you get the fuel?

Philip Randazzo:

Sometimes they'll bring out a wagon. You got headquarters platoon. They'll come out on a convoy. We'll come in closer to camp, they'll come out in a convoy and we fuel up and top off then. One thing we didn't like. When we went to Cu Chi and we come back in, they keep us in that one area. We can't go around the camp.

James Pachucki:

So you're in--

Philip Randazzo:

Right in that one area. You can't go no place. They didn't want us to mingle with the rear echelon, because they got nice Hawaiian shirts on, they got packages from home, CARE packages, and they got food, they got mess halls. So they kept us away from them. We cannot leave our area. We have to stay in there, and there's no food in that area. It was just a blister bags with bugs in them and more C-rations. What we would do when we would come back in, we had a three-day stand, we would come in and we make sure we got our .60's and .50's are working. If they aren't, we have to go steal them from someone else. We wouldn't get weapons. I hate to use the word "steal," but we had to go find them. Certain guys would sneak out and go find these .50's and .60's, because ours were burning up. We tried to get boots if you can. We tried to get pants, but you can't find nothing. Everybody in the rear took everything. You don't get nothing. Then, when you do come in they'll give your letters. You read the letters and then you got to destroy them. You can't keep nothing. They tell us that the enemy will take an address maybe and write to the people at home, like they are playing with us now with this guy with the no head deal [referring to a hostage story in Iraq]. Oh, he's dead, he ain't dead, he's dead. That's what they told us.

James Pachucki:

Yeah.

Philip Randazzo:

But I don't know if that was the real truth why they didn't let us keep our letters. I think because they didn't want us to smell the spray on the letters. You look at the pictures, you look at the envelopes, and think this is coming from civilization. Because after months and months out there, you're not rational. Everything's changing. Guys are dying, guys are wounded, new guys are coming in. You're fighting all the time. Search and destroys all the time. It's hot in the jungles, hot in the villages and the people don't realize the heat, and there's no water. There's no showers; there is no nothing. You're gonna patrol all night. If you take these cops off the streets at night, we're in big trouble. If you take us off Highway One at night, we're in big trouble there. What our objective was, as I found out years later, is that we control Vietnam because of daylight during the day with all our air[craft]. But at night time, you can't see. Well you got your infrared 310 lamps, but you got to get down there on the goal line. Our job is to run that highway, which is the goal line. Now, the enemy knows we are out there with them. When they're moving, we're moving. We're trying to cut them off. Maybe intelligence and air surveillance says there's 100 of them, or 300 of them at a time coming across this way. We get the call and we have to go this way and put up a blocking force, maybe head out right into them and start to fight. That's the only way you're going to get in with some guys starting to fight. Otherwise they're going to keep on moving and get into their positions. What was bad about it is that I was there, like I said, about four months before Tet started and they were all coming in to get into their positions.

James Pachucki:

So you were out there four months, out in the bush, before Tet started.

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, Tet started January 31st '69. We were pulled back into Cu Chi January 30th. Then when we came in during the day, Cu Chi was getting rocketed and mortared. And man, unbelievable, you know. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! during the daylight. But it don't bother us, really. We weren't scared of that stuff, it's nothing personal and you know, we were the target. So we would just go to our hooch and see if we got some letters. You're not really too concerned about rockets and mortars because you're way above that. You have graduated.

James Pachucki:

Yeah, out in the bush.

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, you graduated from that stuff. You gotta get lucky to get hit with them. That's not direct fire at you. So, we didn't pay attention to that. All day it was going on and in the dark, it was going on all night long. Around two o'clock in the morning, Sergeant Strayer says, "Mount up, mount up." Ah, hell. So we went out to the motor pool, it's not really a motor pool, just a dust pile. You can see it in the movies here. [Referring to home movies appearing accompany video interview.] Instead of going out at a normal gate of Cu Chi, we went another way and there was no gate. We made a gate through the barbed wire. Then we were in the jungle. We rode through that jungle for maybe three hours. After three hours of riding through the jungle at night, with the tank and the mine vehicles behind him, you got the jungle brushing on you, the dawn started coming up, it started breaking and then we were ordered to make a right flank move, and we did, we did and came upon a road, Highway 1. And as we got up on Highway 1, we straightened out and there were seven vehicles, there were seven more behind us; that was the Third Platoon. The Second Platoon took the lead. We had the lead tank and my track. And then I could start seeing civilization. I seen buildings, regular buildings. It was really odd. I seen this base where GIs were walking way out there. You could see way in a distance the GIs. The sun was getting nice and bright now; it was pretty. All the time I was traveling then I had a flak jacket on and I had one across my knees too, in case you get hit with an RPG I want to try to get protected. I had a bandolier with 16 on and I had my 16 strapped over me besides, and I had a steel pot on. Now, I never wear stuff like this. I did on this trip because that jungle, that was a rough one. That was a rough three hours. But what happened was, I had my .60 machinegun here all loaded up. I got box after box thrown together so I don't have to reload, change boxes. I could just keep firing. When the sun was bright, we stopped on the road there and I took off that steel pot-I didn't like wearing 'em, it hurt my head--and I took my flack jacket off and I took it off my legs, my bandoliers came off, my rifle came off. I still got my .60. We were halted right at this barbed wire that was in front of us. We were in the road and it started off the road and went this way to the base. Captain Verrant, he was a West Point captain, he was my captain; he was in the middle of the two platoons on his vehicle. He was with the FO--the FO was the forward observer; he's the one who calls in the air strikes, the artillery, the gun ships. He could mark everything if we get hit. Well, what happened was was that he came up the ditch. Highway 1 is only a lane and a half blacktop, there's a ditch on both sides. He came up my left ditch and when he came up the left ditch he got to the side of my vehicle and took a little left veer and he stopped. He sees these officers approaching. Right away, I had a new guy on my .60 and I jumped, pushed him off the .60 and then I covered Captain Verrant dismounting with the FO. He might have been with us; I don't remember seeing him. You have to remember, the lieutenant is the top man out there, the top officer's only a lieutenant. See, you really don't get to see your captain or your colonel. But I knew enough to jump on that .60, because I seen soldiers in uniforms, and you have to look at everybody with a weapon there, you have to look at them as your enemy and get ready to kill it. So, when I seen these uniforms, I jumped to .60 and then Dolan was on the .50, swung it around and swung it at them, and McGarvey kicks the track-he was our track driver--he kicked the track over and this way we got a good kill. We have to. It was kind of unusual, I'd never seen nothing like this. It didn't take him long, a minute, he got back up on his track with the FO. Then they come up on the road, and he's trying to squeeze between me and the tank. My track and the tank. Which you can't do, it because our vehicle covers the tank. The tank has no machine guns. It has a cold rack, it had a .50, but it is defenseless. Our job is to cover that tank. Well, he jumps in front of my vehicle; the tank moves out in the front of my vehicle. We spaced our vehicles. We had spacing that we follow. So, from what I understood, I can get off the helmets or whatever, that the tank was supposed to get into the main gate, pull behind the barbed wire. The barbed wire was depped (?) and in between they had 50 gallon drums of napalm buried in there, Claymore mines. Now this was a big base. It was big. Well, we never did make it into that main gate. There was a village on the right hand side that had all these people in this village. You didn't expect that. I'm on my right gun, on my .60 and I wasn't hearing anything, I wasn't hearing anything, wasn't seeing anything. I know my vehicle is at a stop and next thing I knew, Sergeant Strayer, he jumps on top of the treads, the tracks, pulling himself up on the left side and was yelling at me. Because we been together for four and a half months. He's yelling at me to open fire, destroy everything, destroy that village. I started opening my .60, but Strayer's face is all bloody. And I started opening up with the .60 and destroying the village. You could start seeing the NVA, they were all laying down in berms. Then you could see them maneuver because we were hitting them. When we recon by fire. When we recon by fire, we know where the enemy is at. We been in enough fights already. We know exactly where they are at, what rat holes they're hiding behind. So, we rousted them out. Just then, when that happened, I got hit with an RPG. My truck got hit square on. Over there in Baghdad, they are using RPG2's. These are RPG7's, RPG9's; they're bigger. The Vietcong had RPG2's. The NVA had the 7's and 9's and 11's and 13's; they go up bigger and bigger. And they're more guided, they got bigger wings, wings sections on it. RPG2 does not have wings on it, just a nose cone with a rod. So they wobble like a duck when they're coming to you. That's why they are not accurate in Baghdad, they don't have no guidance to them. But we got hit with the bigger ones, and I got blown right off that one. I got blown off into the ditch, on the barbed wire side. Sgt. Dolan was in the ditch with me and Sgt. Strayer. Us three are together. They're on both sides of my shoulders. They both had .45's because they're TC's, track commanders, tank commanders. They both had .45's and I got nothing because I got blown off with nothing. So, what happened was is that Strayer's telling me everybody's dead in the tank, and everyone is dead where Captain Verrant's track. The North Vietnamese jumped on the tank and jumped on the track and shot everybody in the heads. That's why we have to be behind that tank, so stuff like that doesn't happen. The FO's track doesn't have it. He's got a .50 and what the hell's he know about a .50 caliber? They don't know nothin'. So what happened is that Sgt. Strayer had his .45 and he's shooting at the NVA coming over our tracks, and he's killing them as they are coming over. Sgt. Dolan was doing the same thing. They didn't think any of us were alive yet. They thought they killed everyone in the vehicles. But they got some shots off, they got some kills in there and before I knew it, Sgt. Strayer, his head fell right next to me. I picked his head up and he had a bullet hole right in his forehead. He had an AK right here. I took his .45 and pointed it. I put my head down because I didn't have any ammo. Four NVA came over at me, and I put my head down-I had no ammo. I put my head down and tried to get underneath Sgt. Strayer's body. This is the first time I seen NVA--I never fought NVA, I fought Vietcong and what they call sympathizers, you know, like the insurgents [referring to Iraq war]. They have their insurgents, we call them sympathizers and the Vietcong. That's who I'd been fighting for all these months.

James Pachucki:

Just for the tape, the NVA is the North Vietnamese. The official army.

Philip Randazzo:

That's the official army of the North Vietnamese. But these were their elite. Because they send their elite troops. This is all documented in books, that they sent their elite troops, their best, to take out Saigon and the embassy and the air base. So we are fighting their special forces. The most elite battalions. That's why they gave us such a hard damn time. But they were tough. They fall too the same way. But you know what, we were tough, too. We were the best that the Army had out there also. No infantry or army could take us down. We were good.

James Pachucki:

So, did you ever get off of this particular point, you know where you were active?

Philip Randazzo:

No, I was there almost ten hours laying in the same spot. I did retreat through the barbed wire because there were too many guys, too many dead in the ditch, too many wounded; the bodies were mutilated when they were still alive. The Third Platoon was behind us. They didn't pull up because they would be in range of everything. They stayed back. One guy came up, Al Porter, a buddy of mine. We were in contact. He come up. And we started, just a little bit later, maybe about an hour and a half, two hours, we started. Well, back to them North Vietnamese that jumped over, the four of them. I put my head down and tried to bury my body underneath Sgt. Strayer, because I figured, I just didn't want to get ripped up bad.

James Pachucki:

You had no chance.

Philip Randazzo:

No, I had nothing. Didn't have a damn thing. Couldn't go backwards or forwards. I couldn't do a damn thing. See, then they kept me in that position. I can't screw to the right; I gotta stay with my track and with my guys there. Standing orders. So what happened was there was a guy named Steve Porter-he was from Chicago, he just came real quick. I don't know how in the hell he figured it out, but he's got a .60 machine gun and got them four when he came over. He surprised them. He got them. It was funny watching them guys jump up and down trying to dodge them .60 rounds. [Laughing] You're watching them jump around [mimics soldiers reacting to gun fire]. They figured they're so tough, you know. But he had 'em dancing with his .60s. Guys were coming down, some of my platoon was coming down with a case of ammo. Lt. Pinto, he had a case of grenades, you know. I got grenades and I was waiting for six; they were comin' across and I [mimics lying in wait] would roll them over, time 'em out, no waiting period. You learn to toss. You count 'em off. It's just like a hammer pounding in a nail. You get good at all that stuff. But you've got to fight a lot to get good. You've got to keep surviving your battles, keep surviving. And then you learn their strategies. You know, they like to yell, but that don't mean nothing. So that went on, but there's too many wounded. Finally, Porter and this other man--I can't think of the guy's name--they got a track, an APC, and we started getting everybody on top. Hell, you can't let them lay there like a rat all day long. You got to do something. So you get up there and you take your chances. You start to throwing the officers, all the bodies, up on the track and then the one guy's driving the track, he went through the barbed wire. And I'm on this side trying to push the wire down, I had a 16 and tried to push the wires off of us so we wouldn't tangle. Finally, we got it through. We already had three choppers shot down over us that came in. So, they were all behind me and the barbed wire. So the officers were all back there and I just grabbed one of their .60s off the slick and put some bandoliers with .60s-that Pancho Villa look--and came running across that barbed wire again and my position, and Sgt. Dolan kept feeding me straight lines so if they do come, I wouldn't have no jam ups. I had a lot of experience with the .60s. I got to be good. I guess that's why they picked me to be a scout. So that battle there, that was January 31st. We stayed out there three days cleanin' up that battle. Then we had to go over to the embassy. We didn't know this. We drove through the city. I remember when the colonel, Col. Otis, he did say-Col. Otis turned out to be a four-star general in charge of the European forces later on, so that will tell you what kind of colonel I had, a real son of a bitch. He was in the rear of the column when we went into Saigon. Like I said, it was adjacent. He said, "If I hear one shot, I'm going to shut my radio off." He says, "I want this city destroyed." Just like that. That means no cease-fire. So we went in driving through the city.

We made a left turn and we went in front of a building that was called the U.S. Embassy, I don't know what it was then. All I know is that we had to secure this building that was under attack. But on the right was another building that was President Thieu's palace, cater-corner. And they had soldiers there, all around it, in bunkers. I thought, Oh geez, look at the guns on these guys. Anything that's a gun was gonna die in here. They're all gonna die. Because I was covered with blood from all the bodies in the ditch. I won't get into the gory parts about these guys, what you gotta do to 'em in the ditch. But we spent two days. My track, we backed up and they opened the gate and we backed up the steps and we blocked the back, the front door of the embassy. We blocked it. The embassy was all blasted with RPG holes. Then a Marine Colonel came out and he wanted two volunteers. So Lieutenant Pinto says, "Longabardi, Randazzo, get in there." So we pulled the track forward and then they backed the track up. My teeth were knocked out from that battle. I had metal in my head. He wanted us to salute this guy. You gotta remember. My teeth were knocked out-my nerves were hangin'--so I had three days nothing to eat. The C-rations have little fruit cans in them. You suck the juice out so the air don't hit your teeth. So me and Longabardi looked at this officer, and he looked really pretty. He had white gloves and a white belt on, and he looked really pretty. We told him, "You got the wrong guy," and we walked back out the door. Then Lieutenant Pinto, we tell him, "This guy wants us to salute," you know. So he walks in and he says, "You want two volunteers, I'm gonna give you two volunteers, and they're under my command, they're not under your command." He says "You can ask 'em to do something for you, they'll do it for you, but they don't have to do nothing for you," he says. So, he understood the situation, and he walked us down a hallway at a door. Now this is a building I hadn't been in, I had never seen nothing like this. It had a water fountain, the damn thing had a water fountain in there, you know. But anyhow there was a door. He says "I want you to position yourselves at the door at the end of the hall. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out, everything's gotta die." So we understand orders like that. So, we sat there and then these two American ladies that's in the hallway, they came and they looked down on us, and they stopped right there. One of them started trying to come down the hall. We said, "You better stop right there, ladies." They says, "You guys want some food?" We say, "Yeah, if you got some C's, we'll take them." So they came back and they had trays, cafeteria trays and they got food on them. We thought, Son of a bitch, we couldn't believe that. So we're looking, standing looking and we said, "Just put the plates there and back up." So they put the trays down and they backed up. I forget, me or Longabardi, one of us walked down first and got the tray full of food. 'Cause you can't leave that door. You can't leave that door. So he walked and got a tray, and I walked and got a tray, and it had food on it. Real food. Son of a bitch. So we sat there and we're looking at the food, and we try to eat. You really can't eat it, because you can't swallow. What happened was was the doctors told me my stomach shrunk, so I really couldn't enjoy it. But the ladies came back again and we told them to stay at the end of the hallway. They stayed back and they said, "You guys want some cots?" We didn't know what the hell she meant. She brought in a mattress and we gave 'em back the trays and we took the mattress. We checked the mattress in case it's booby-trapped. Oh, one of us, 'cause one of us has got to stay by the door. So we checked to be sure the mattress is not booby trapped, because you can't trust nobody. So, they walked back and we sat on the goddam mattress all night long and we were pretty comfortable. We never seen nothing like this. In the morning, this corporal comes by and he comes down the hall again and he says "Okay, pull it out. I'm going to open up the door. There's going to be a man come out. When the man comes out, I want you to walk shoulder to shoulder against the guy, one on each shoulder. Then I want you to follow me." Then, the door opened up, the guy comes out and I got his right shoulder on my left. Longabardi was reversed. We walked him down the hallway and ended in a big a big foyer area-a lot of glass--and then you see these big glass doors. He said, "Okay, now we're going to go out these glass doors and there's going to be some vehicles. You're going to place this person inside the vehicle." He said, "Now I want you guys to remember that there were trees all around the garden area. All these trees." He said, "So if there's a hand grenade that comes out, you jump on the hand grenade." We ain't going to jump on shit. There ain't gonna be no hand grenade come out. This is kid stuff He's telling us kid stuff. I would know if there was anybody was in the trees. So did Longabardi. I didn't know if I was going to be jumping on no hand grenade. I know I can get rid of the son of a bitch. I might just be able to throw it away myself. I'm taking a shot at throwing it away. I'm not going to waste my time jumping on it, risk my life like that. You see, they underestimated us. They don't know how good we are. (End of Side One of tape.) They don't understand how good we are. We always said the best fighting man is the American fighting man. But you gotta get him into that position. You gotta get him into that state of mind. He'll kill anything out there. Cause I wanted to go home. You know, I had spaghetti dinners waiting on a Sunday. I said that earlier. We all had reasons to go home. I had a barber shop, I had a little dance band, I had a girlfriend. You know, what hell am I going to die there for? I couldn't see any reason dying there. Well, there was a reason. But I'm looking at Longabardi, so we walked him down. We could see the trees. I could see if a leaf is going to move wrong, irregularly. We got him into a covered vehicle and that was that. They said, "You guys are dismissed," so we walked back up the step into the embassy, up to the front door and Lieutenant Pinto said "What's going on?" We told him, "We had to walk some out there to make sure he didn't get shot at, we had to go across the street, there was a lumber yard.

James Pachucki:

Did you ever find out who the guy was?

Philip Randazzo:

It was General Westmoreland. He was stuck in the embassy when Tet hit, he was stuck in there. General Westmoreland was the man. I tried to make contact with him one time when he came to Detroit years ago. I called up and I left a message with people, I said, "Have him call him. I'm the one, me and Longabardi-well, Longabardi's dead; he died, poor guy, he died, he got killed real bad. But I called; I wanted to tell General Westmoreland, we walked you out of the embassy, got your ass out of there, you know. The NVA, if they woulda known he was in there, they would have put a bigger fight up. That was Westmoreland. Then Lt. Pinto, we're out at (?) and we spent two days there. We secured the area. The MP's were the ones who had that first initial fight. We secured the area, we went through all the closets and doors and nooks and crannies, and all around the yard to make sure that everything is in order before we left. So we left and then they said, this was five days bullshit. They said we were going to go back to Cu Chi and they are going to have a steak dinner at the gate when we pull in the door, the doughnut dollies are going to have a barbecue out there. They are going to barbecue steaks for us guys. We were kind of happy about that, you know. We were about 30 miles back. Well, we were going back and when we were halfway there, 15 miles down Highway 1, it's 9:00 in the morning, and they halted us. This was the Provincial Capital Area. It was called Hoc Mon.

James Pachucki:

How do you spell that?

Philip Randazzo:

H-o-c M-o-n. Provincial capitals are like Mt. Clemens is Macomb County's capital and Pontiac is Oakland's. Well, this was the capital of this one province. I don't know the province, I have maps at home. But that's was the capital of that province. We called it Provincial Capitals. I didn't know nothing about this. This was a place I had never been, never been there. Because, we were on the way back, we came through the jungle, we never came up Highway 1 to that area and we never were up that way. Our business was always south. So on the way back, 15 miles down the road is the capital of Hoc Mon, which I heard about the Hoc Mon Bridge on the road, but I was never there. They told us to halt, oh man, hlat 9:00 in the morning, a beautiful, sunny, hot morning. We thought we were going back. My clothes were bad, my teeth-my nerves are hanging out--, my head was all crusted with blood, and my clothes were all crusted with all the guys that were on top. It was just sickening. It was sickening, them guys' bodies like that. You're laying on top of their bodies.

James Pachucki:

It's hard for us to imagine, even. Circumstances like that.

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, you're stuck with these bodies, and they're living, you know. They're still living. They're not dead. They go into shock, they come out of shock, they go into shock, they come out of shock, they're shaking, trying to kill the enemy. You're trying to help these guys and you get kind of burned out somehow.. It gets rough like that. That's why we throw them on the track. We had to get them out of there. If you die, you die. If you get blown in half, you're gonna get blown in half. But you gotta get these bastards out of there.

James Pachucki:

At this point were the doctors, the medics still working?

Philip Randazzo:

No, the medics couldn't do nothing. Like Martinez - he was firing at Ton Son Nhut, he was firing off his track and he was firing the law (?) right off his shoulders and he got caught with an AK right in the groin and it blew his ass off. Me and Porter pulled him off the track and laid him in the ditch. He's got no crotch, he's got no ass and the medic just crossed by and put a big patch on there. I laid on top of Martinez and my right knee right up his guts with that big patch hold everything in trying to stop that bleeding. He would shake. His whole body was shaking. He was laying there and I am trying to lay on top of him. He was trying to kill the North Vietnamese that were coming, and he's shaking and he's yelling, "Don't let them catch me." Then he would start shaking again. Then you run out of ammunition and you gotta move. You gotta move. You ain't got no ammunition. You can't lay on him no more. This is why I was all full of blood. We were out all day long. There was more like that, but I can't even go into it. But we were going back to Cu Chi, so they stopped us at Hoc Mon Bridge and they told us to make a right, and we made a right. We went down a little bit and there was a village. They told us to make a recon by fire and kept moving through it. So we were moving our vehicles at a faster pace. We could only go 35 tops, but we were picking up speed. Then we picked up speed, we were doing a recon by fire. Then we hit another clear road again with rice paddies on both sides and hedgerows and then another village. They said recon by fire, we opened up and did the same thing. Then there was another clearing, which ended up that we were going to the provincial capital of Hoc Mon. Now, when we hit Hoc Mon, which is a big city, big, big village, people all over the road. We didn't know if we should recon by fire through this one. It was about a quarter after nine in the morning. We didn't recon by fire but you can hear artillery banging on the other side. You could hear them banging and as we kept going through that village, you kept hearing it and it kept getting louder, and louder, and the artillery is just banging. We were the lead vehicle then, Lt. Pinto. We couldn't figure who was firing the artillery. Lieutenant is trying to find someone to stop the artillery because we were going right into it. We had orders to go, but we're getting artillery.

James Pachucki:

This was incoming?

Philip Randazzo:

It was incoming on us, coming right in on us. What happened was that we found out it was South Vietnamese artillery so we had no control. But it stopped. As we got outside the village of Hoc Mon, we got orders to stop. You could see it. You looked to your left, there was a clearing and there was 100 infantry in there dead.

James Pachucki:

U.S., or?

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, U.S. They walked into a battalion base camp.

James Pachucki:

So what do you do at this point? You're out on the road.

Philip Randazzo:

We were on the road, and then you got the ditch. Then the ditch comes up to the level land and they were right in there. They said it was a company of infantry. They didn't tell us until we got there, but you could see them all sprawled out there. There was hedge rows going right around them. We could see the opening this way [gestures with his hands]. So they told us to left flank, and we left flanked, and they told us to move in and get em. They told us to cover everything. We covered it. We went down the ditch, up the ditch and straight out. Shit, we didn't make it; as soon as we got that opening, with that moon [gestures to form a crescent shape] going around of hedgerows and treelines, they hit the hell out of us. They were in fortified bunkers at ground level and I caught two bunkers. They were concrete with big beams. They were dug in, the NVA were dug in there.

James Pachucki:

Were your tanks still functional at this point?

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, they were getting hit now. We all were on line and started moving in. What happened was is that they weren't getting RPG's in there. The RPG's were falling short. They weren't sticking their heads out and getting good angle shots at us. They were trying to stay inside their bunkers. A lot of AK47 fire. They had good snipers. Their riflemen were taking our guys right off. As for Sgt. Webster, he was my TC for a while, and his son is in Afghanistan, er, Iraq right now. He was 2 years old when his father was there.

James Pachucki:

What is a TC?

Philip Randazzo:

Track Commander or Tank Commander. You could go either way. If you were on a tank, you were a Tank Commander; if you were on a track, a 113, you were a Track Commander. You're tank or track. I seen Sgt. Webster get an AK right in the head. We were the first vehicle on the right; we were catching a lot of bullets, a lot of bullets. Lt. Pinto, he's got so much guts, the son of a bitch wouldn't back up, you know. Wouldn't back up. Pull back, you got out of range again. If you pulled up, you're in the moon shape. It was just a U shape. But we were getting guys shot all over the place. They're all getting shot off their vehicles. The tank on my left, it was up front, they all, all of em were shot off with AKs. The tank started on fire, the Quonset box-it's a tool box--that started on fire. I can't remember this guy's name, he was from California, he only had three days maybe left. He ran up to that little box, I don't know why he did it, but he ran up to the box and started trying to put that fire out. The fire extinguisher apparently he had on his track. And he got shot and jumped off and they got him and we dragged him back. He had a bandolier of 16s on and the AK went through the magazine and shoved 3 or 4 more M16's into him. People don't see how hard it is to die. You know, the more equipment you got on, the more is gonna go into your body. These soldiers, they all look like walking robots. Boy, you try to take that shit off when they get hit and you can't. They're dead. So you're better off with just a shirt and pants. Nothing goes in but that one piece, or whatever hits you. It's not going to suck the rest of the stuff in. But I dragged him back. I felt bad for him. We ended up, that was about 9:20 in the morning, and we fought until the sun was setting. We couldn't get in, couldn't get in. Longabardi's track came around. He was on a mortar track. He's got a 4-deuce mortar inside. He tried to get headquarters platoon, because they hadn't heard about it. Headquarters platoon come out; they were 15 miles back, they come out. It was the only way I could figure headquarters platoon got involved like that. Longabardi came in front and his mortar track got hit right in front of me by RPGs. That son of a bitch blew up like a nuclear bomb. The heat was so intense. That there would scare anybody to death. Your eardrums were shattered. I never had no problems with my ears. But that battle stopped for us because we had to pull back. It was night. It was getting to be dark. So we pulled back across the road. Found a ditch. Through this hedgerow there's a clearing. In the meantime Bravo troop came. Bravo troop come. They reinforced us. Because we had been beat up since January 31. This was February 6. We had been beat up bad. Then all night the jets, artillery and gun ships were bombing that area, because of all the weaponry in there. We left our vehicles, our guys, all the weaponry in there, plus that infantry company. So, the sun came up and they say, "Here we go again." They said they're going to bring chow out to us. Mermite chow out to us. Hell, they came out. but we never got to eat it. It was about quarter to seven in the morning. Headquarters had Mermite cans. Man, I was close to the Mermite can. I got close to them. You hear that on television. That's as close as I got to a Mermite can.

James Pachucki:

What's a Mermite can?

Philip Randazzo:

It is like a metal can, [gesturing] about this long and about that high and that wide, and it opens up and keeps the foods hot in there. Had scrambled eggs in there. Powdered eggs, scrambled you know. So I figured this ain't no steak dinner. What is this? There's got to be something in the can, you got to eat. You just wanted some damn food. So, right away what happened was that we got hit from the opposite direction. They had RPG's and they were throwing RPG's at us and machine gun fire. They wanted us to attack 'em that way [gesturing with his arm]. But that was just a detour. They wanted to suck us over there, you know, but we had our objective here. So Bravo Troop got on line and they led the way first. Before Bravo Troop got to the road we'd crossed the night before, there was a wood line right there and when we went through; that wood line just came right to life. Right to life. The NVA were in that wood line.

James Pachucki:

They let you go through?

Philip Randazzo:

They let us go through. They play with you. So, Bravo Troop caught it, but they destroyed 'em. I seen them, they pulled up 20 some bodies out there. We had to back for them. So we were watching them and once they took over that hedgerow, cleaned it, and then it was pull forward, try to go get your shit cleared out. So we pulled forward and all day long I was gaffing bodies, gaffing weapons--all day. That was about from 8:00 in the morning, I gaffed bodies until about 6. See, you can't roll bodies over or pick up things because they could be booby trapped. There was only a few of us guys doing it. They gave us like a double hook on a fish and a long rope, and then you go out and stick it, or throw it at them, you throw it at the bodies. They are all swollen up you know and you can't feel sorry no more. You gotta move. You gotta keep active and get the hell out that hell hole. Well, we did that all day long, all day long. So now what happens is, there's a tank with no tankers on it. They were shot off. Operable tank, M48. So they says, "Wop, you gotta get on the tank," and I got on the tank and these other three guys got on the tank, I don't know who they were, everybody was so new all the time, I didn't even know these guys. So this is about 6:00 or 6:30 at night. And Longabardi, his motor track was in place, only two feet high, buried in the ground. Lombardi was a big man, big chest. He was 26 years old. He owned a bar in New York. Big chested guy. So we put his ribs in a body bag, you know. His buddy, Castegna, me and John, we put his ribs in a bag.

James Pachucki:

The Tet Offensive, did you move out from Tet offensive then? Somewhere away from--I mean, you were in Saigon, and you were at Ton Son Nhut, I thought those were the two basic places that Tet was all about.

Philip Randazzo:

That was the big ones. They hit all the provincial capitals. That is how these guys got hit in Hoc Mon. That was a big hit. If a company of guys get wiped out in Fallujah today, they would go nuts over it. Tet was all over. They hit every provincial capital, every city; every military installation got hit. That was why Cu Chi was getting rocketed and mortared. They wanted to scramble everybody's mind. Get you standing on your toenails, trying to make you bite your fingernails, cry for home. Try to break your spirit down. Not to a unit like us, though. But that night, it was getting dark and we picked up everything and then I had to mop the tank and then I was upset. I says not to go back the way we came, didn't want to go down that road and through the villages. Let's go down to where Bravo troop was over there, in the clearing. Let's have them escort us. Nah, they didn't want to listen. Colonel Otis didn't want to listen. Because I questioned all these trees. There was all these trees. Four trees knocked right over the road. The roots were on this side, the leaves were on this side. I said, "Why are all them trees laying across that road?" They said, "Well, the artillery knocked it down; the jets bombed it." Well, that's not what happened. We got up, we had to get up on the road. Lead tank took off, start the column going. As we went through, the trees went like this and the trees sprung back, and we got four RPG's on us. They hated us, man. They just keep playing you. They won't let go, won't let go. They just keep playing you. So I got hit with four RPG 7's. This is what I found out later. I got hurt then. I got shrapnel in the arm, in the hands, my knee, my leg up here. I got shrapnel. I'm lucky I'm here, though, because it hit the turret right here [gestures] and I'm leaning against the rear turret. I'm lucky I'm still here. The other three got hit. I remember one guy, he got shot in the butt. The other two guys, I never seen them, got dusted off. I never seen 'em no more. But I got blown off and then I got shot from behind in the ditch--they were on both sides of us--I got shot in the leg when I was coming up. I had a 79 (?) launcher that I was popping in because that's where I seen the hooch right, I seen the son of a bitches. I got you. I got my 79 and I was hurt, I was really hurting. I was bleeding all over the goddam place. I was hurting; I don't feel it. You don't feel the pain when you get hit. I was okay, I was fighting good. But the rest of the units were all back here; nobody could see us. Nobody could fire; nobody could help us. They didn't know what happened to us. But I was fighting that one hooch.

James Pachucki:

You took care of it.

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah. I got him. I got them. You see the trees had a hole in them and that's where they were. It was stupid. I knew they were in that hole, bastards, so I got 'em good.

James Pachucki:

Was that your ticket home?

Philip Randazzo:

No, no. As a matter of fact, that was not my ticket. They wanted to court martial me. The I.G. I got dusted off then, that night, and then my unit came in that day. So I was brought back to my unit after the hospital in the company area there. I was laying there and the clerk comes over with the Jeep and he stopped. They lay on top. So he comes over and he brings letters to you and then when I was in a tent, like a MASH tent, but not like theirs. You sit on a dirt floor waiting your turn and you watch everybody get operated on. It is ugly. It isn't white, it's camouflaged and there's no masks. It's horrible. The guy in front of me, a black guy, he got shot in the leg but his leg looked like an elephant leg. He went into shock, and the doctor went over to the nurse and they unraveled the bandage and split his chest open. Jeez oh man, you sit there and you got enough bullshit. Anyhow, I got released. What they did, before they released me, they asked me when the last time was that I ate. I said I didn't know. What month am I at? They kept asking when did I eat last, and I thought four and a half months ago, then I said, "No, the other day." "Well, what did you have?" "C-rations." So, these were people who worked in this tent, medical people. Once you get all the way down to the end; they're [the beds are] on [saw] horses. So the people asked, "When did you have real food," and I said I hadn't had no food since I been here. I told them, "I got here in September and I hadn't had no food yet." They said, "Son of a bitch, the man hasn't had any food." This one big sergeant, honest to Christ, I was numbed up and had gotten my ass shots, because they can't play with you; that's not a hospital. They're not gonna play with you. So he come back and he had an Italian submarine, he had Italian bread with meat in it. Son of a bitch, he had bread and meat. He laid it on my chest, wrapped in this paper. I said, "Wow." Then the crew comes and put all my letters on my chest, and then they carry a--oh, what the hell do they call them things? The two handles?

James Pachucki:

The litter.

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, the litter. They picked up the litter and they brought it out to the Jeep and put it on top and he drives it back to the area. Then, he and another guy they take you off, headquarters guys, they take you off and bring you to your little hooch. And they lay you in there. I can see the guys, the wounded, and the guys not so wounded. A lot of those guys were mental. They were scared, terrified, horrible. That was really rough, really rough in that thing. But my platoon came in the next day and Lt. Pinto says, "Randazzo, we're leaving in the morning." I said, "I gotta go get stitches. I been in here three days. I mean, look at my goddam leg." They cut a big hole in it. They gotta get the bullet and the lead out, so it drains. Otherwise you can get poisoned.

James Pachucki:

Right.

Philip Randazzo:

I said, "I've got to go get stitches." He says, "Get your stitches and then you can come right out." I told him I can't move my goddam leg, how could I climb up and down. "I can't," I said. I still had to go over there. He said, "You're the only one with experience." He said, "I'm not going out with all these new guys. I want you on the track with me." You know, it keeps on going. That was the week of Tet. After that week, it slowed down until we just got in normal fights, that's all. Not these big units after you. Because that's when we whipped the North Vietnamese Army pretty good.

James Pachucki:

Library of Congress asked us, about 90 minutes. We're getting close to that.

Philip Randazzo:

Fine.

James Pachucki:

When did you leave now?

Philip Randazzo:

I left about September 28, 1968.

James Pachucki:

So you had been there just under a year?

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, shy two days, something like that. Or maybe it was 10 days.

James Pachucki:

That story you tell us is just absolutely phenomenal. None of us were there and couldn't even visualize this stuff going on. Did you receive the Purple Heart?

James Pachucki:

Oh yeah. Would you actually hold them up for the camera? Tell Joe what they are.

Philip Randazzo:

This is the Cross of Gallantry that the South Vietnamese President awarded my troop, my platoon for the fighting we did at Saigon. This one here is from the President of South Vietnam. This kind of makes me proud. He appreciated it. Then I was awarded the Black Beret from the South Vietnamese rangers, and that was because we saved Ton Son Nhut Air Force Base with them. I received the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB). Then I got myself two Bronze Stars for Valor, and a Purple Heart here. I got a Presidential Citation. I am kind of proud about that one. Then this is from the 25th Infantry Division, a divisional citation also. I read about this one, and this is pretty unique. The Presidential one. Big units can't receive them. Smaller units can receive the Presidential Citation.

James Pachucki:

Isn't that the same as was given to Company E of the 101st Airborne?

Philip Randazzo:

Yes it was. Over in Iraq.

James Pachucki:

Over in Germany.

Philip Randazzo:

The Presidential Citation is equal to the Distinguished Service Cross. Because they don't want to give all the individuals the Distinguished Service Cross, so what they do, they give the unit this. In order to get this, you have to be a small unit and defeat a large unit. You can't be a small unit fighting a small unit, or a big unit fighting a big unit. You have to be a small unit and defeat a big, big, outnumbered unit. That's how I got this from Ton Son Nhut Air Force Base. I got these at Ton Son Nhut Air Force Base here. This is another medal from the Republic of Vietnam, another service medal. This is a National Defense Medal. I don't know; I think I got a Good Conduct; yeah I did get a Good Conduct Medal. I wasn't too good in Vietnam. [Laughing] I know I didn't get a good one over there. I wasn't on my best behavior over there. Yeah, these are medals that mean a lot to me. This is a Bronze Star equivalent to another Bronze Star, it says on my award. As a matter of fact, here, this is it right here. This is from the President of Vietnam. This one here is from going into Saigon. I don't know how many people the Library of Congress are going to have with this over there.

James Pachucki:

Probably not very many.

Philip Randazzo:

So, I am kind of proud of all my medals.

James Pachucki:

How did you feel when Saigon eventually fell?

Philip Randazzo:

I felt really bad. I felt bad because I'd seen the guys die for it, and that's what made me feel bad. They shouldn't have died. You know, I said earlier that I seen these guys die for nothing. We protected the village people, the children and the women, and the older men, the people who are sick. That's why we patrolled the villages. I've seen villages after the Viet Cong got done with them. It was very, very, very bad what they do. So our job was to secure their villages, day and night. Them people would get eaten up alive by the enemy. We did have a purpose, not to defeat the North Vietnamese, not to defeat the Viet Cong. That was part of it. But deep down inside ours was to protect the people over there. The kids loved us. When you see this film that I took on 8mm over there, now it's on a VHS, when you see the kids around us, you can see all the villages, you can see us in the villages, how we operate. This is actual pictures of the guys who fought at Ton Son Nhut and fought at Hoc Mon. These are the actual vehicles that were destroyed, the 1l3's and M48's. These are the ones we destroyed. But these are also the guys in the vehicles that killed many, many, many North Vietnamese soldiers. They had, I think they had two of their best Viet Cong battalions there too. They got screwed over, too.

James Pachucki:

What's the other one?

Philip Randazzo:

The other tape is the tape that the university, they did a story on Tet, particularly the Battle of Ton Son Nhut, which they feel and many other people feel is the most important battle because that controlled the whole network of the Vietnam War, as far as the Americans were considered. If they would have lost the embassy or the air base, if they would have lost the Ton Son Nhut Air Base, they would have lost the United States Embassy and Saigon. They called it Mach V, which was the brain of the war. Without that going, we would have just fell over real quick. It would have been a whole big Khe Sanh over there. But we defended it. The first day was bad. The second and third day was more clean up, clean up than actual fighting, the second and third day was the clean up part about it. We preserved the Americans from losing, and Ohio University did a documentary and they got it from the people in Bravo Troop, who came to our aid three hours later. They seen us all dead out there. They came in and took the heat off of us. There were still some of us alive there fighting. Also, what they did on that 30th anniversary, which was January 31, 1968--they went over there in 1998, and they filmed right there on the site. They filmed in coordination with the North Vietnamese movie producers. They came up with the documentary and even on the back [of the tape box], you can see the monument on the back of this, which-that there when I seen this tape, they sent me this tape, and I seen the actual footage on this tape. You see the monument that they stuck up for the guys that we killed, the soldiers that were killed. They put a monument up and you can see it. When they sent me this tape, I couldn't believe I was looking at it. I said, "My God, it was that bad of a battle." We did hurt them that bad that they put a monument up for all those that we killed that day. You could see the North Vietnamese Army in this film actually march up to this monument, carrying the wreaths. They had January 31st on 1968. All the people they lined up in their best dress apparel to honor; that's their 9/11, I guess. Maybe not in [number of] dead. We killed a lot of them, about 600 of them died right there. So, they fought hard but they died hard, too. We didn't have time to play. It's all in this film here.

James Pachucki:

Okay, and these two films will be included in our submission to the Library of Congress.

Philip Randazzo:

Correct, yes, yes. I want the Library of Congress to have the films of the men and this film here, the actual tracks. It will be like having pictures of the horses and the men at the Little Big Horn. That's how I look at it. These men here, nobody knows them but their parents, nobody knows what they did, how many were killed in battle, how they fought and screamed and I seen it all. I can't help them guys. I've been writing stories in 3/4 Cav web site about the battles, so that this [is] passed on. And other people in the 3/4 Cav unit today are reading it. Young people read it. I get calls. Sgt. Strayer's wife called me after she read it. She didn't know how her husband died. I told her how he died next to me. She said, "I thought he had been all blown up. He had a closed casket." I told her no, his body had a hole right here, nice clean hole. She said she was mad. I talked to her two years ago. She was mad at me because he died next to me and not next to her. The lady's not mad at me, but she's mad. Then she sent me a letter, and she sent me a picture of her daughter who is about 34 or 36 right now in her wedding dress. She wanted me to see her daughter and Mrs. Strayer, Sue Strayer, with the wedding dress on. I said, "Oh, my God." I told my wife, I said, "What do you think that means?" and she said, "Well, you're the father." She sent me his dog tag. I told her that I have a dog tag on a key chain. She sent me his Silver Star award, she sent me small little letters, and she sent me a picture of the daughter and her on the wedding day, and she sent me his dog tag. That is the dog tag with the groove in it. 'Cause you see, he was older than I was, he was in the Army longer than I was. He was our platoon sergeant. I got a picture of Sgt. Strayer with me, him and I together, but I never did send it to her yet. I did send her the tape of the guys. I did send it, she does see her husband, but she don't see a clear picture of him. He's on the tank in front of me, only his back sitting on the track, on top of the tank. She didn't understand it, she says. "I don't understand it." And I told her you will. I told her to talk to her daughter and her husband and my wife, and I say, "My wife and I will come down to Ohio some day." Which I don't have the guts yet to go down there. I don't have the guts yet. I was thinking of going down there, this August maybe or September or so. She's a school bus driver so I have to go before September. You know, I have to get the guts to go down there. Then I have pictures of how we lived. I don't know if you can catch that. [Shows picture.] That is a bunch of rough guys.

James Pachucki:

That is part of your platoon?

Philip Randazzo:

That is part of my platoon, yeah. That's my platoon before Tet took everybody away.

James Pachucki:

Not a lot of meat on those people.

Philip Randazzo:

No. Here's how I am on my track. That's the number of tracks, APCs, they call them 113s. I lost four APCs, and I lost one M48 tank by RPGs. So I counted them all up and I got hit with 13 RPGs. Then I could go on. My hooch got hit, too, but that's another story. Now that's an artillery support base called Lagota Hoc (sp?). It is over by the Black Virgin Mountains, by Nui Bai Dinh (?), up close to Tay Ninh (?), Da Tieng (?), by the Cambodian border in case anybody in history wants to know. That picture is taken there.

James Pachucki:

This is artillery support?

Philip Randazzo:

That is an artillery support base. Once you get 20 miles out so far, another gun has to pick you up. Artillery range is only 20 miles. Every time you get another 20 miles out, another artillery base has to pick us up. They call them fire support bases. Otherwise, there'd be like we had no airpower. Not that we usually needed it, but - here is a picture of me goofing around. That's the brighter side.

James Pachucki:

Good looking kid.

Philip Randazzo:

That's it. I've put a little bit of chow on. This guy was a tanker. He was on the tanks. That was before Tet. That's why the smile was there and the teeth were there. I thought I would just bring these along to show you what it was like.

James Pachucki:

That guy kind of looks like Alex Karras.

Philip Randazzo:

Yeah, don't he. [Laughing] He was from California. That there, we used him for a scout. But he ended up scouting for the other side.

James Pachucki:

They pay better?

Philip Randazzo:

No, the difference is, he collected. You can see the top of my hat on this one, where it says "Wop". See, there was no racial bull going on there. We had no racial stuff. Yeah, there was a guy from Hawaii and we called him Pineapple. The Puerto Ricans are all PRs. How can I say it? We had a guy whose name was Sandoval, which you can't say over the radio. I asked where he was from, it was Topeka, Kansas, and I said where in the hell's that at? I never heard of Kansas, let alone Topeka. I was only a 21-year-old kid. He said, "Well, it's the capital of Kansas." I said, "We'll call you Topeka." What the hell. He stepped on a mine.

James Pachucki:

Well, I think we are about at our limits. I'd like to thank you for coming in.

Philip Randazzo:

My pleasure.

James Pachucki:

And thank you for sharing this with us and allowing us to get it set up so that it can go to the Library of Congress and become a permanent part of our national heritage.

Philip Randazzo:

I'm proud to give this to somebody. I would hate to see when I die that it would just get shoved in somebody's garbage can. You need to see that. I can leave you this one.

James Pachucki:

I appreciate it.

Philip Randazzo:

This one I'll get it copied. I'll give you a copy right away. That will coincide with what I have been speaking. You will see Vietnam in 1998. You will hear what happened to Charlie Troop. Bravo Troop is the one who put this on, but you will see what happened to Charlie Troop, my unit. Capt. Varrant, he got shot twice in the head. I thought he was dead that day, but he is still alive in Atlanta, Georgia. You will see him in that film, too.

James Pachucki:

I'll be darned.

Philip Randazzo:

You don't remember a thing because he was out right away. I thought he was dead.

James Pachucki:

Well, thank you very much.

Philip Randazzo:

My pleasure, guys.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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