A few weeks after graduating from the Manhattan School of Visual Arts in ’67 Richard Uhlich of Englewood Isles got his draft notice. He was headed for Vietnam.
“I took basic at Fort Jackson, S.C. and I also took my advanced infantry training there, too,” he said recently. “After that I was flown to Bien Hoai, South Vietnam and from there I took a C-130 transport to Saigon. I was trucked to the 9th Infantry Division stationed about 15 miles south of Saigon.
“I ended up in Charley Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Regiment, 9th Division,” Uhlich explained. “I started out commanding an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) we called ‘tracks.’ I manned the .50 cal. machine-gun on top. There was a gunner, a driver and a radioman that ran one of these tracked vehicles capable of carrying six solders in battle dress to war.
“I was in Charley Company about four months. Within a few weeks after I first got there we got hit by the Vietcong guerrillas pretty hard. We had taken three tracks out into a certain area where we pulled off the road and set up for the night.
“We set up a string of a dozen Claymore mines around our perimeter to protect our vehicles. I was on guard duty when the VC attacked at 3:30 a.m. They opened up on us with five machine-guns. I hugged the ground and couldn’t get up to shoot at them because anyone who stood up was dead.
“The whole fire fight last about 10 minutes, it seemed like an eternity. Then they faded away into the bush,” Uhlich said.
His biggest battle was the Tet Offensive that caused the U.S. to pull out of Vietnam. Some
100,000 North Vietnam Army troops and Vietcong guerrillas attack most of the major military bases and cities in South Vietnam starting Jan. 30, 1968. Tet was the new year and was billed as a holiday in South Vietnam. It didn’t turn out that way for Uhlich and the troops serving with him.
“Here’s how it went. Maj. William Jones, the deputy commander of our battalion, jumped into our APC and ordered us to drive to Highway #1 where we would meet a string of other tracks waiting there. When we arrived I pulled in front of the line of 20 vehicles and we head up Highway #1.
“We only drove a short distance when we were hit by a hail of small arms fire and rocket
propelled grenades (RPGs). The VC was shooting at us from the underbrush along both sides of the road. Very quickly the track behind us was hit by two RPGs that knocked the treads off the vehicle. A couple of APCs behind us two of our men were killed in the shootout.
“It was at this point Maj. Jones called in the Cobra attack helicopters. Two of them came
swooping down with their Gatling-guns firing thousands of rounds on the VC. The enemy was pretty well wiped out.
A wrecked APC sits on a trailer after the Battle of Chalon, a suburb of Saigon, that Uhlich participated in. It was probably hit by an enemy rocket propelled grenade. In the background you can see part of the bombed out community. Photo provided
“By this time our track had moved far ahead of the rest of the vehicles in the convoy. We were out there all by ourselves as the battle raged. We headed back to the other APCs for safety.
“Then we continued along Highway #1 where some of the tracks split off and went to Bien Hoai. We continued on along Highway #1 through a big cemetery. By the time the day was over we had killed about 300 of the enemy. We lost a couple of guys and that’s what happens in fights like this.
“When they found out I could draw they sent me back to headquarters company and I spent much of the rest of my time drawing maps for the division. Unfortunately Maj. Jones thought I was his good luck charm and he took me with him everywhere he went. Jones was a gung-ho infantryman on his third tour in Vietnam.
“My next big engagement was the ‘Battle of Chalon,’ a suburb of Saigon. It was a little village with farms right in town that we devastated. Our ’tracks’ went into Chalon with the 197th Light Infantry Division. We went door-to-door searching for the VC. By the time it was over we leveled the place with napalm bombs. I don’t like to talk about it much.
“Gen. William Westmorland, commander of our troops in Vietnam, flew into Chalon with a Vietnamese general after the fighting was over. He told us he couldn’t understand why we had so many troops fighting such a small number of VC. Actually the VC had 2,500 guerrillas in Chalon before we blew it up.
“My last week in Vietnam I was a short-timer and stayed in my base camp 15-miles outside Saigon drinking beer and taking it easy. There was a policy there that during your last week in country they wouldn’t send you out in the field. And wouldn’t you know the base was mortared by the enemy pretty heavily my last few days.
“I flew home in August ’68 and landed at Travis Air Force Base in California. From there I went to San Francisco and flew back to New York City near where I grew up without a hitch. My last five months in the Army I spent as an MP at Fort Totten on Long Island, N.Y.
“After Vietnam I got a place in Manhattan where I met my wife, Nancy. Eventually I became a foreman in Manhattan working on high in renovations of apartments in the city. I did that for 20 years until we retired to Englewood Isles two years ago.”
The Uhlich’s have a daughter, Jennifer, who lives with her family in California.
Unit: Charley Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Regiment, 9th Division,
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 17, 2019, and is republished with permission.
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