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War Stories

Doing the Right Thing

Rolland "Fletch" Fletcher

Artillery Forward Observer 1968

April 1968 Somewhere in Vietnam

I’m flying over the Mekong River blowing up trees and bushes like most of my days flying as an Air Observer. I receive a call for a new target, maybe the fourth one of the day.

My pilot moves the chopper over the town I will call ‘Hip Hop’ just 5 miles southeast of Trang Bang. I call the firebase to ensure I have the correct coordinates….we discuss the target. I report that this is just a friendly village. The fire direction officer calls his commanding captain. I argue with him that this is not an enemy target. I ask them to reconfirm the target with 25th Divisions Artillery, Army of Republic of Vietnam and S-5.
S-5 is the CIA in Vietnam.

As I wait for the fire mission to be called off, I tell the pilot to put his hand outside the door and cover up the number on our chopper. He asks why? I remark, “we are going to Prison when this fire mission is over as we are going to destroy a friendly village.”

As we fly around about 700 feet above the six block long 3 block wide little village, there is a 9 year old boy walking a water buffalo down the main street. I can still see him today.

In about seven minutes we get the clearances all reconfirmed. I ask the captain ‘how in the hell did he get S-5 clearance.” He reports the village chief says everyone in that town is a VC. (300 miles north of me in the Americal Division a Lieutenant gets the same message at his briefing…..everyone in ‘Pinkville’ is a commie) I remember my response: “the f……..g village chief can’t be living there”. I still refuse to fire the mission.

The captain at the guns (battery) says I outrank you and I don’t need your clearance……and he fires his guns. With no marking round and adjustment all he hits is the northwest corner (mostly 5 of 6 rounds hit in the field outside of the village).

The individuals on the ground start jumping into holes and bunkers. The captain calls back “Will you adjust the fire.” I refuse and I ask the pilot on the intercom, “Do you want to adjust the fires?” “Oh no sir I’m only your pilot.”

I call back to the guns that even the pilot does not want to adjust the fire. Then I add “you six men in the fire direction tent write this down in your log book; “Rolland Fletcher, Jr. serial number ******** ( give them my name in the clear) “I protest this fire mission as it is a friendly village; and if you continue I will testify as such at your court martial.” The captain calls back and says cease fire mission.

The pilot asks what I want to do…….I tell him to fly me back to camp as “I am done fighting the war today.”


After action report

No, I did not hear anything about this refusal on my part at all.

Years later when I tell this story to a friend who is a VA counselor he says he is treating a forward observer for depression and suicide who did just the opposite of me and regretted it the rest of his life.

Then he went into the three stages of guilt and/or PTSD:
1) Just being in a war zone and getting home. You all have a chance to have PTSD
2) If you killed what you thought was just, or dealing with death; a friend goes on a mission and dies, etc. You have just raised the bar.
3) If you thought you saw or perceived you participated in an atrocity that you couldn’t stop. This is the highest possibility of having PTSD. A person at the highest risk of PDST.

What happens to my pilot that day???
Remember we had a 7 minutes discussion about what was right or wrong with what was about to happen; if he watches me blow away 300 men, women and children. Yes, there are 300 Vietnamese who hated an American who just flew around and then blasted the village…..they had no idea what really happened.

I couldn’t tell you this story if I had done it differently. When I told this at Hartnell College….”Didn’t you get in trouble?” I told this young man…..I had training at OCS that as the FO I would be responsible for the target, and no one 10, 20 or 100 miles away could see the target and if it isn’t a military target I could be court martialed. And, I told him, “You can not be court martialed when you do the right thing.”

Rolland Fletcher

PS: I really would like to find and talk with that pilot that supported me.