HHB 6th Bn 56th ADA (HAWK)


- MSG Larry F. O'Neill (ANG)
assisted by Paul Kopsick DQS Historian

My name is Larry F. O'Neill. In 1968 I was a SP4 with Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery, one of the two HAWK missile battalions serving in Vietnam. My MOS was 16K20 (Fire Distribution Crewman) but by 1968 there was little need for antiaircraft protection around Saigon and for that matter any place else in Vietnam. Both battalions were largely phasing out and preparing to return to the US or to be posted elsewhere in the world. The 6/56th had four line batteries: A, B, C and D and I was part of the Headquarters Battery that supported the line units. At that time the HHB compound was located east of Bien Hoa airbase on the south side of Highway 1 and right between the PW Camp and a hamlet called Widow's Village.

It is a little known fact, but at that time many air defense artillery (ADA) men in these units rarely operated in their original MOS training. This created problems for the ADA units in several ways. For non-ADA units, the ADA men were considered to be REMFs (rear echelon m* f*), sitting safely behind their barbed wire high on the hills away from the action. We all know that there were no front lines in Vietnam and any local could be the enemy but in the minds of some (officers and enlisted alike), if you were not combat trained you were a second class soldier. Furthermore, the lack of real ADA work, created utilization issues with many of the men. You can do so much training and just fill so many sandbags without going crazy and many ADA men were actually anxious to play a more direct role in the war. Many volunteered for other duties or transferred to other line units, sometimes with tragic results.

It is even a lesser known fact that many ADA crewman, originally trained in missile defense, were used routinely in ground combat roles such as perimeter security and as members of reaction forces, true ground combat roles. Although trained only on missiles, my primary job at the 6/56th was security, as I was part of a field reactionary force team. We did everything including perimeter defense, convoy security, civic duty, and ground sweeps outside the perimeter. We were never formally trained in using the M-14, M-60 and grenade launcher, but in Vietnam your learned a lot things while "on the job". This is my personal recollection of the VC/NVA attack on the Long Binh area during the 1968 Tet Offensive around Saigon, specifically the incident referred to at the Battle of Widow's Village.

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