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Gary Linderer was a member og 101st Airborne Division ("Screaming Eagles") LRRP team in 1968-1969. Arriving incountry after completing AIT (advanced infantry training) at Fort Gordon and Airborne School at Fort Benning, GA, Linderer was initially assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. When asked if he wanted to volunteer for LRRP duty, he agreed, not really knowing what it was. When his tour of duty was over, Linderer had compiled an impressive record: two Silver Star medals, a Bronze Star medal with V for Valor, and Army Commendation Mefal with V, and two Purple Hearts for wounds recieved in action.
Today, Linderer lives in Missouri with his wife and four sons. His book include The Eyes of the Eagle: F Company LRPs in Vietnam, Eyes Behind the Line; and combined hardback version, Black Berets and Painted Faces. He talked recently with Vietnam Magazine's senior editor, Al Hemingway.
Vietnam: What was the mission of LRRPs?
Linderer: Each Army corps, separate brigade and division had LRRP units. The original LRRPs were provisional units organised out of a need for better battlefield intelligence. For example, the 101st Airborne Division had a brigade (1st Brigade) in Vietnam before the rest of the division arrived. The 1st Brigade formed a LRRP unit in 1966-1967. These LRRPs trained in Nha Trang at Recondo School, which had been established by Special Forces. When the division arrived in December 1967, Special Forces merged the 1st Brigade LRRPs with their own outfit. In February 1969, it was redesignated L Company, 75th Infantry (Ranger)
Vietnam: Did you train on a continuous basis?
Linderer: For my first month in Vietnam, that's all I did. It was the policy of out unit that you could not go Recondo School unless you had the potential of becoming a TL (team leader) or an ATL (assistant team leader). It normally took four to five months before you met the necessary criteria for those positions. Also, to be considered you needed six months remaining on your tour after graduation from Recondo School. I was assigned to a team immidiately. Again, this varied from unit to unit. Usually a new arrival was sent to a team that had lost people through being killed, wounded or rotated home. This was known as a rebuilding team, and the team was put on standout for a week or more. Training consisted of map and compass reading, weapons, patrolling, techniques, advanced first aid, camouflage, immidiate-action drills, setting up ambushes, NDPs (night defensive positions), OPs (observation posts) and LP (listening posts). Also, we practiced inserting and extracting. There were three types of insertions: a regular chopper landing, a rope-ladder insertion and a rappel insertion. We also did what we called a slack jump. You would hook up at 80 feet down the rope, instead of near the anchor point. You would actually do and 80-foot free fall before you hit resistance, and finished with a standard rappel insertion the rest of the way.
Vietnam: That had to be quite an experience.
Linderer: Well, if it wasn't executed properly, it could destroy your shoulder. We practiced and practiced, until everything became automatic.
Vietnam: In The Eyes of the Eagle, you describe several difficult missions your team was involved in. One was a night insertion near an U.S. abandoned firebase.
Linderer: Camp Eagle was situated in the rolling hills west of Phu Bai and Hue City. The vegetation around camp was denuded, with hardly cover. About four to five miles west of Eagle, the mountain range begins, and the dominant feature at the eastern edge of that range is Nui Ke Mountain. At the time, this high peek had been stripped of vegetation about 200 meters all around. An abandoned firebase was situated there; it was still occasionally used on local operations.
Vietnam: How did it go?
Linderer: We inserted at 9 in the morning. As the chopper was descending onto this beautiful PSP (pierced steel planking), the pilot, at the last minute, jockeyed away from the pad and intead landed on the top of a flat-roofed CP (command post). We jumped out, but didn't "lay dog" (to lay low after insertion in case a mission was compromised) like we normally did. We looked down the sides of the mountain and couldn't detect any movement, so we immediately started checking for booby traps. That's when the TL, Ray Zoschak, happened to look under the PSP, which was sitting on sandbags, and spotted this bomb. It was nose up and one inch away from the pad. The weight of the chopper would have detonated it. I believe it was a 500-pound bomb.
Vietnam: My God, that would have destroyed the chopper!
Linderer: Actually, at our debriefing, they told us we would have been vaporized. Anyway, after about 45 minutes we started patrolling down one of the finger ridges that run off of Nui Ke. We dropped off to the east and could see Camp Eagle in the distance. Below us lay the Perfume River, which runs south to north along the face of the mountains and then takes a turn to the east and eventually goes through Hue City and out to the South China Sea. We stepped off the ridge with Terry Clifton walking point.
Vietnam: What was your job?
Linderer: On this mission I was the ATL. Near the jungle, the TL stopped the team and sent Clifton and myself on a point recon to make sure no ambush was awaiting us. The area was covered with a lot of downed timber and huge boulders. We went ahead and found nothing. We were just ready to signal the team to move ahead when we heard mortars being launched from the valley to the north of us.
Vietnam: What happened then?
Linderer: They were close, only a couple of hundred meters away. The ridge we were on was not very wide, maybe 30 to 40 feet across. It dropped off steeply on each side, and the first rounds landed on the opposite side. They had overshot our position. The next volley hit on the other side of the ridge. So, they had bracketed us. By the time we reached the team, the rounds were hitting close by. However, since the ridge was so narrow, the NVA would have had to land those rounds right on to of us to do any damage. We dispersed into some big rocks nearby while our TL and our junior RTO (radiotelephone operator) called in a fire mission.
Vietnam: The NVA weren't fooled on this one.
Linderer: No. They were so close, in fact, their tubes were firing straight up in the air trying to hit us. I happened to look down the south finger and saw several NVA moving up toward the firebase, attempting to get to the high ground above us.
Vietnam: Did they make it?
Linderer: While the TL and RTO stayed where they were, I took the rest of the team back up to the abandoned firebase. When I reached the crest, I expected to see NVA coming up the other side, but we beat them to the top. We positioned ourselves 40 meters apart covering all points of the compass. I was overlooking the area the NVA had tried to come up. Soon, our TL and RTO rejoined us. For the next three to four hours we had airstrikes coming in on the south side of the valley and artillery strikes on the north. We got numerous secondary explosions all over that valley. Right behind the Phantoms we had four Cobra gunships.
Vietnam: How did the NVA react?
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