By Jeremy P. Amick
The stories of veterans can often vary among the different branches of services and the types of military duties for which one trained. As local veteran Ron Bandelier notes, his combat tour in South Vietnam was, in his opinion, an ideal example of such a unique experience and one witnessed with a group of American-trained Vietnamese Rangers.
A 1965 graduate of Jefferson City High School, Bandelier, 68, St. Martins, Mo., received his draft notice in September 1967, while working for the state highway department.
“I know you’ve probably heard it before, but all of us just kind of knew (the draft) was coming,” he said.
By late October, he was in Ft. Bliss, Texas, attending U.S. Army basic training with six other draftees from the Jefferson City area. Finishing their initial training in mid-December, the men returned home on leave, not to meet again until after the war.
“During the induction process, they put us through some tests and discovered that I was color blind,” Bandelier explained. “They said it was a good thing because that meant I couldn’t go in the infantry.”
In early January 1968, the young soldier reported to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., for training as a radio teletype operator, spending the next three months learning to operate military radio systems including the AN/PRC 25—a short-range radio that would later become vital to his survival under combat conditions.
Graduating in April 1968, the untested soldier received orders for deployment and traveled by commercial aircraft to Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, arriving in country toward the end of the Tet Offensive—one of the largest military campaigns launched against South Vietnamese and American forces during the war.
Within days, Bandelier was assigned to a U.S. Army Ranger group called MAC-V (Military Assistance Command) attached to the 21st Vietnamese Ranger Battalion, which he describes as a “highly mobile advisory team” comprised of four American soldiers and more than 400 Vietnamese Rangers.
“The Vietnamese Rangers were very well trained,” Bandelier said. “Our base camp was located in Phu Loc, northwest of Da Nang,” he added, “and we were usually out on operations with one of us advisors cycling in to Da Nang for about three days of rest, usually once every two weeks or as combat conditions allowed.”
As the veteran explained, the MAC-V was one of several military elements operating under a rather unique set of cirumstances, separated from resupply and support, with the radio Bandelier carried serving as their lifeline to the oustide world.
“Our primary purpose was reconnaissance of an area called Dodge City,” he explained. “It was known to be a major infiltration route for attacks against Da Nang. When we would make contact with Viet Cong or NVA (North Vietnamese Army), I would use the radio to call in artillery or airstrikes.”
He continued, “I can even remember times that we used naval artillery from the ships operating off of the coast.”
As the lone radioman among only four Americans in their operational group, Bandelier said that with the tall antenna connected to the radio, it was easier to identify him as a target since enemy forces knew he was the connection between the Vietnamese Rangers and artillery support.
“I never used the long-range ‘whip’ antenna,” he said, “unless it was really necessary for communication. Snipers always waited and aimed at the guys with antennas in the air, so I used the shorter 3-foot tape antenna that I could run down the front of my backpack and pull it up for transmission.”
In addition to the threat posed by snipers and enemy forces, Bandelier stated that the Rangers also had to contend with other deadly threats such as booby traps and land mines during their missions.
After spending nearly a year performing operations in a “hot spot” of Vietnam where “no place was safe,” the combat veteran completed his tour and returned to the United States, receiving his discharge in May 1969.
Once back in Mid-Missouri, he returned to work with the state highway department and remained there until his retirement in 2002. The year following his discharge from the Army, Bandelier married his fiancée, Dorothy, and the couple has raised two sons.
The veteran now enjoys spending his free time restoring and driving classic cars and, for the past decade, has volunteered to drive a hosptial van for the Disabled American Veterans. Despite however active he remains in his retirement, Bandelier’s thoughts frequently return to friends he left behind decades ago and thousands of miles away.
“We essentially lived among the Vietnamese Rangers the entire time we were over there … they were our friends, they were our people,” Bandelier affirmed.
When we left (Vietnam) and communist government seized control, most of them fought to end and never surrendered . For that,” he paused, “they were placed in reeducation camps or killed.”
He added,”When our time was up, we got to come home, but they had to stay over there and deal with the consequences of defending their country.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.