Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Veteran's History Project

Anthony F. Urban, Specialist Four, US Army, 1966-1968 (Vietnam)

 

Larry Nelson for the Western Nebraska Observer

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Anthony F. Urban, "Tony", was sworn into the US Army in Sioux Falls, SD. He was among twenty-two young guys from South Dakota who enlisted at that time. The group went to Fort Polk, LA in November of 1966. The winters there are cold and wet.

His Drill Sergeant was SGT McDonald. The SGT was a good trainer and even though the weather was not conducive to the training environment at that time of year, he led the men through their paces.

At Basic Combat Training, Tony was named a Squad Leader. He was the recruit in charge of eleven other recruits. "Basic" went well for Tony. Because he was a Squad Leader, he earned a place in Leadership School – a two week training piece that was designed to sharpen those skills. Next was Advanced Individual Training, in the infantry, at North Fort Polk. The place was known as "Tigerland". Since the soldiers in this group already knew the essentials of being a soldier, they focused only on infantry tactics, enhanced weapon training, land navigation, and getting prepared to get into the fight in Southeast Asia.

Once the training was over, the young soldiers were sent home for Christmas leave. The next place he was ordered to was Fort Lewis, Washington. He and lots of other soldiers organized themselves in South Dakota and chartered a bus to get them from Rapid City to the Seattle-Tacoma area.

Reasonably quickly, the men reported in and were told they would be getting to their next destination, Vietnam, by troop ship. (Troop ships were the common means of getting men to war in WWII and Korea, so, not much changed.) The ship was the USNS Geiger, (T-AP-197). The transport ship was run by Merchant Marines. There were about 3,300 soldiers aboard and a crew of about 2,000.

On the ship, the hammock Tony was assigned to was the top one in a stack of six. One didn't want to be in the lower bunks, because if the guys in hammocks above them got sick... no bueno! When he made his first trip to the galley, he went through the line with a tray in his hands. When his tray was loaded with food, he found a seat at a table. The metal tray on a metal table moved around. An experienced sailor asked Tony if he knew how to stop the tray from moving? The sailor grabbed a slice of bread, put it in some water, and smacked it on the table, then placed Tony's tray on the bread. The tray stopped moving!

After several instances of Murphy's Law, and twenty-two days later, the USNS Geiger sailed to Cam Ranh Bay, located in the southeast coast of Vietnam. The 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One) was now "in country".

The Companies of the 1st Bn settled into their encampment and immediately began search and destroy missions. Daily missions were carried out up to 4,000 meters from the camp just to make it more secure and to keep the enemy on its game as well. Everything was set up in a circle. The secure ground was what was behind the soldiers. Every evening, using inter-locking fire techniques, the men would expend their ammunition out from the camp for one minute. The next step was to establish the listening posts and ambush patrols.

On one occasion, Tony led the ambush patrol out into the field. The men were told to go out roughly one thousand "klicks". The assignment was risky because the enemy was known to be in the immediate area. As the night grew darker, assignments were made to have two men awake at all times. The waking duration time was an hour, and then one was to bump the next guy and tell him it was his turn, etc.

In the darkness, Tony heard movement to his front. Tony called to the rear by radio, to report the situation. The plan was then to light the area with flares so the men could see what was out there. Tony and three guys tried to move back to the perimeter. The enemy was so close that the three men behind Tony were killed. Tony and others recovered their bodies the next day.

Tony carried one of several different weapons including the M-16 rifle, the M-79 grenade launcher, the M-60 machine gun and the M-2, a 50 cal machine gun. Hot meals were flown in nightly when possible. The cooks would stay in the field overnight and prepare the men a good hot breakfast the following morning.

During the day, the food was from C-rations. There were several entrees available. The meal most soldiers wanted to trade or toss was ham and lima beans. Tony loved them! Tony ate well!

During an ambush patrol in April 1968, a new Captain was leading the small group. The battle for Hill 172 was engaged. As it happened, the actual ammo bearers wouldn't move...they had frozen in place. Tony was then re-supplying ammunition to his gunners.

The new Commander was standing up, looking around. Tony, carrying four cans of rounds, slammed the Officer to the ground, most likely saving his life. Tony was carrying a package of cigarettes in a pocket of his trousers. He was shot in the left leg. As the bullet struck, it must have hit the package first then traveled through a meaty part of his thigh.

He soon received more injuries from flying shrapnel – in the face: in his mouth, (taking out two teeth,) in the left arm and in one of his hips. (There are still pieces of that metal in his body today.) The members of the patrol pulled back. They must have thought Tony was killed because he wasn't firing weapons or grenades any longer. In the mean time, Tony removed the sling from his machine gun and configured it as a wrap to secure his injured leg. He crawled back to the line of US soldiers.

When the medical helicopter arrived on scene, it was taking all kinds of fire. The rotors were hitting the trees. The injured guys were loaded on. The helicopter seemed to jump into the sky, going straight up then onward. The chopper landed at the nearest medical facility where the injured were evaluated. Tony was sent on to the 24th Medical Evacuation unit where surgery was performed to remove some of the shrapnel and treat the gunshot wound.

Tony was returned to the US. By the medical flight plan of hopping from place to place, Tony finally re-cooperated at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver, CO. His Army enlistment ended here as well. Tony returned to his hometown of Presho, South Dakota.

Tony earned the Combat Infantry Badge, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Campaign and Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. He also earned the Expert Rifle Badge and the Sharpshooter Badge for Pistol shooting.

Specialist Anthony Urban, you're a fine soldier! Thank you for your service!

 

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