Vietnam Personal Accounts

Tom Riggins

First Marine, Force Recon



Riggins first tour in Vietnam was as a sniper with H&S Company, 9th Marine Regiment.  He landed in DaNang in March 1965.  During this tour he attained the rank of Gunnery Sergeant prior to attending Officers' Training School and receiving a commission.  He returned to Vietnam with then Lt. Dennis Richardson and was assigned to the 1st Marines Anti Tank Battalion.  He stayed with the anti tank battalion for about one month before volunteering for 1st Marines Force Recon.

When the battle of Hue began, Tom was ordered into the city with a pick-up platoon of 14 men of Force Recon to protect some combat engineers that were attempting to rebuild a destroyed bridge.  The engineers encountered too much enemy fire to complete their mission and so Tom set up an observation post on a steep hill that overlooked one of the main entrances of Hue.  There was a small pagoda near the summit.  His team had several M60 machine guns and M79 grenade launchers and felt they could discourage any NVA from attempting a serious assault on the hill.  From this position the team called in artillery fire on buildings occupied by NVA in the city.

The 101st Airborne sent units into Tom's area to attempt to cross some open ground prior to entering the city.  The first two patrols of Army troops sustained very heavy casualties attempting to cross the open area.  The Army units then called in supporting fire from 155 mm and 8" artillery as well as support from fixed wing and F-4 aircraft.  The supporting fire was impressive, but it didn't stop the NVA from returning fire from the city.

Lt. Riggins found a single Ontos and driver and convinced the driver that his Ontos could climb the steep hill to the pagoda if Riggins would climb the hill in front of the machine acting as eyes for the driver.  Tom remembers the Ontos was well worn out by this time.

Once on top of the hill, The Ontos provided well-aimed fire into the windows of the buildings that housed the NVA.  Lt. Riggins had the range well calibrated since he had been calling in artillery fire for several days.  The range was 2500 yards.

The Ontos was knocking out NVA positions with each firing.  The recon team did its best to hand carry ammo to the Ontos, but it was a laborious task lifting the 37 pound rounds up the steep hillside to the Ontos.  They learned that they could force the NVA from some of the buildings by firing the M8 50 caliber spotting rifle through the windows and thus notifying the NVA that their demise was near.

The Ontos did in a short time what the artillery and air units couldn't.  It cleared the open area so the army units could enter Hue.