Monday, February 8, 2016

The Vietnam “Experience” at Patriot’s Point SC

I never served in Vietnam but I know many former members of the military who did...and who suffered from it or still suffer from their serving in this most thankless American conflict.

This exhibit is a new addition for visitors to explore while visiting Patriot’s Point many points of interest.  I guess that this vignette of life for our troops in Vietnam is an ‘experience’ for visitors…but to those who served in combat in Southeast Asia this was a tragic war with no positive outcome.  Worse yet, our veterans of this war were reviled by many and their service and needs were ignored by most citizens as well as by our government when they returned. 

In the last few years, Vietnam Veterans have finally received some respect and heartfelt thanks for all of their sacrifices.  The first thing that visitors see as they approach the Vietnam Experience is this memorial with the dog tags for the 895 South Carolinians who died in the War.  We thought that this simple memorial was very moving and meaningful.

For a list of those South Carolinians who died during the Vietnam War, you can go to

Also on display near the main display at the Vietnam Experience is this, the most ubiquitous aircraft from that war.  The Bell HU-1M “Huey” served in a plethora of roles, from medevac to gunship.  A total of 7,023 Huey’s saw action during the war with 3,305 of them being destroyed.  1,705 Huey pilots and 1,103 other crew members died in war.

Staff members for Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum realized that this Huey (UH-1C 66-15005) had served in the Vietnam War and that during that time, a veteran had been killed in action aboard the aircraft.  The fallen hero was Kenneth M. Plavcan, a gunner in the 116th Assault Helicopter Company, 3rd Gun Platoon (“Stingers”).  This display is dedicated to his memory and his service…

This is a rare surviving US Navy Mark 1 Patrol Boat River (PBR) The Navy used small craft such as this in their efforts to control the rivers and estuaries throughout the Mekong Delta.  At the height of their use, about 250 were in service during the Vietnam War.

With a fiberglass hull and a water jet drive, these boats could reach speeds of about 30 mph and they were very maneuverable.  In addition to individual small arms, these boats had a twin 50 caliber machine gun forward and a single 50 aft.  Later versions also were equipped with a 40mm Mk. 19 grenade launcher.  They were not armored and relied on speed to escape nasty situations…


·       James Elliott Williams was a sailor of the United States Navy during the 1950s and 1960s.  He was the most highly decorated enlisted man in the history of the United States Navy, among which is a Medal of Honor.  This “Brown Water Navy exhibit” is dedicated to him.  The US Navy Destroyer, USS James E. Williams was also named in his honor.  To learn more about Chief Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Williams and his success with his Patrol Boats against the Viet Cong in the Mekong Delta, go to:

The overall concept or goal of the Vietnam Experience is to use state-of-the art technology and artifacts to give visitors the ‘feel’ of what it was like to live and work in a US Navy Advanced Tactical Support Base (Brown Water Navy) and a US Marine Corps Artillery Firebase during the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Khe Sahn in 1968.
The “base” includes vehicles, aircraft, an observation watchtower, barracks, mess hall, medical facility, command center, storage, ammunition dump, different bunkers, sound effects, etc.

This is one of the bunkers on the 2.5 acre Vietnam Experience base. 
Photos of the interior of the buildings just didn’t come out well.  While it’s hard to imagine the mud, insects, misery, as well as death and injury, one of the huts/bunkers featured a combined video and sound production complete with explosions, ground shaking, etc., in an attempt to give visitors the feeling of what it would have been like at the base during a major assault.  It was not a good feeling…and it did get our attention!

Visitors could climb up into the observation tower and ‘fire’ the 50 caliber machine gun at imaginary enemy forces.  For my taste, that position/duty station is a little exposed from the waist up!  The observer would be the best and most obvious target during an attack.  Those sandbags just wouldn’t do the trick…at least in my mind!

This Kaiser Jeep M725 is on display in the combined Naval/Marine base.  It’s a version of the basic Kaiser Jeep 715 model.  Between 1967 and 1969, over 33,000 trucks mostly small ones like this were produced for the military.  This ambulance could carry up to 5 stretchers…

The Battle of Khe Sahn was a long and bloody struggle.  It lasted from January 21 through July 9, 1968!  During this long battle, the Khe Sahn Combat Base and the hilltop outposts around it were surrounded and under constant North Vietnamese ground, artillery, mortar, and rocket attacks.  A total of 274 Americans were killed in this battle and another 2,541 were wounded. (Given the intensity of the battle, it’s a wonder that many more of our soldiers weren’t killed) Khe Sahn was eventually relieved by additional forces and then we withdrew from the area.  Thousands of North Vietnamese and American allied soldiers were also killed in this struggle…

This is another Bell UH-1 “Huey”.  This one is set up in MEDEVAC mode.  Typically, the crew consisted of 2 pilots, a medic and a crew chief.  Thanks to helicopters like this one, the average time to get a wounded soldier to medical support was about 35 minutes…

MEDVAC helicopters were kept very busy during the war with brave crews risking their lives over and over again to rescue wounded US and allied military personnel.  A total of 58,307 American military personnel were killed in action in this war with another 303,644 wounded.


·       All wars are tragic and Vietnam was no exception.  The war started with the French fighting the Vietnamese Nationalists back in 1955.  The war ended with America’s withdrawal in 1975…20 years of fighting.  Estimated war dead, civilian and military from both sides of the USA’s portion of the conflict have been estimated to be as high as 3,806,000! 

This gun emplacement would have been pretty standard.  The weapon is a M101 A1 Howitzer.  These standard light towed cannons/howitzers saw plenty of service beginning in World War II on through Vietnam.  The cannon fires a 105 mm that sends a 33 pound projectile up to 8 miles…


·       It is estimated that the USA and the South Vietnamese Army fired over 7,000,000 tons (or 14,000,000,000 pounds) of artillery shells at the enemy during the war!

This is an M-42 “Duster”.  This tracked self-propelled unit was developed for the Korean War and it was equipped as a mobile anti-aircraft platform.  Since the aerial threat never materialized in Vietnam, these vehicles were used on ground support missions.  The enemy referred to them as “Fire Dragons”.
About 3,700 M-42 Dusters were built.  

The "Duster" had a crew of 6 and weighs 49,500 lbs. fully loaded.  Maximum speed is 45 mph with a range of 100 miles.  The primary armament consists of fully automatic twin 40 mm M2A1 Bofors cannon that can shoot 240 rounds per minute… Due to minimal air threats, most often the M42 provided ‘on point’ security, convoy escort or perimeter defense as shown in this exhibit.

The Boeing Vertol tandem rotor CH-46 Sea Knight medium assault transport helicopter was introduced to the US Marine Corp in 1964.  In addition to troop or cargo transport, it was also used as a MEDEVAC unit.  In that role, it could transport 15 wounded and 2 medical corpsmen.  As a troop transport, it could carry 24 fully equipped soldiers…

A total of 524 CH-46 helicopters were built.  At least 100 of them were lost in action in Vietnam.  They conducted 200,000 missions and carried roughly 500,000 troops during the war.  These helicopters were not retired from the US Marine Corp until late 2014.


·       Raymond Michael Clausen Jr. was a United States Marine who received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam in January 1970. On a mission to rescue Marines trapped in a minefield and under attack by enemy, under heavy enemy fire Clausen repeatedly left the shelter of the Sea Knight, carrying out one dead and eleven wounded Marines…making six trips through the minefield until every Marine was extracted.

This Sikorsky UH-34D “Seahorse” helicopter is also on display within the base camp.  Originally developed as an anti-submarine helicopter for the US Navy, the “Seahorse” first flew in 1954.  During the early part of the Vietnam War, US Marines frequently used this aircraft for combat assault and other duties.  It could transport 18 fully equipped troops or 8 stretchers.  In other configurations, this helicopter was also named the “Choctaw”.

A total of 2,108 variations of the UH-34 were built over a 17 year period.  This was the last piston-engined helicopter to be operated by the Marine Corps.  This helicopter served with 25 different country’s armed forces around the world…on every continent.

The Vietnam Experience is a different type of memorial than the usual, that’s for sure.  It’s an attempt to give civilians a sense of what it was like for our military personnel during the Vietnam War.  It’s too clean and too pristine to truly represent the hell that that conflict was for our troops.  It does give one the feel of what a base might look like and what living there was like.  Of course, it’s missing the jungle, dampness, bugs and mud...not to mention the danger.
For us the key experience was watching the film, feeling the explosions and hearing the voices in the bunker with other visitors.  Scary stuff!  No matter how one feels about the politics and the outcome of the Vietnam War, our warriors deserve our thanks and gratitude! 

·       A total of 257 Medals of Honor were awarded to members of the United States Military Services based on service during the Vietnam War…about 162 of them posthumously.  In addition, over 1,000 Distinguished Services Crosses were awarded…400 posthumously.

For more on Patriot’s Point and its exhibits, you can go to  We’d highly recommend a visit to see the ships, planes and the Vietnam Experience!

That’s about it for now.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

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