Vietnam, one of the two forgotten wars, 101st Airborn; TAOR, I Corp, DMZ; Military MOS (military occupational specialty); Electronic Recon Group; Military Intelligence; Mac V.
Medals and Awards - Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnamese Campaign Medal, National Defense Medal, Bronze Stars 3, Army Commendation 3, Conspicuous Service Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry/w Palm
Vietnam War: During the second Indo-China War, the war which included the U.S., South Vietnam was divided into four sections by the U.S. military. I Corp the northern most section; II Corp central highlands; III Corp Saigon to the highlands and IV Corp the most southern section and Mekong Delta
The DMZ: Established as a dividing line between the North Vietnamese territories and the South Vietnamese territories as a result of the first Indo-China War. The second Indo-China War, was also known as the the Vietnam War.
The DMZ was known as the important battleground demarkation line separating the North Vietnam army and the South Vietnam army and its allies. The DMZ was more than 100 kilometers long and only a few kilometers wide at certain spots. It ran along Vietnam's Ben Hai River and on all world maps it was registered as the 17th parallel.
Many U.S. Marine bases, which were supported by U.S. Army units, were placed along the DMZ, aka, the the McNamara line, who as the secretary of war at the time felt by building these most northern artillery bases, locating them near the enemy's infiltration routes from the north would be beneficial in stopping high enemy infiltrating from North Vietnam.
Bases such as Gio Linh, Alpha 3, Alpha 3 Alpha, Con Thien, Camp JJ Carroll and Khe Sanh were supported with U.S. Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy who's units had fought in many savage battles in 1967, 1968, and 1969. Also placed at these Army and Marine bases were Army artillery units and their 175 s mm and eight inch artillery pieces who had the capability of not only range but accuracy to help support units working in the DMZ area.
Children - Kent KC, Jake and Bobby.
Paul Christopher was born Dec. 19, 1949, in Dunkirk at Brooks Memorial Hospital. His parents John and Josephine (Leone) Christopher made their home on Eagle Street in Fredonia. As a child, he spent much of his childhood at Fredonia Eagle Street playground.
When you saw him, friends Frank Leone, Mike Laurito, Fred Barone, Charlie Siragusa, Tony Plaza and Mike Tomkowicz were never far behind. If you were to walk by Canadaway Creek and witnessed a group of boys involved in a rock fight, it probably included Christopher and his friends.
When they weren't skipping rocks on Canadaway Creek the group enjoyed fishing and swimming especially on those hot Fredonia summer days. When looking for things to do at night, and the group being somewhat bored, you may have seen at times part of Christopher's group with rolls of toilet paper in their arms out decorating one of their friends front yard trees, honoring he claimed some kind of celebration.
Now and then, he recalled another pastime in those days was applying wax to a friend's car window and forgetting to wipe it off. Loving excitement and sometimes being in the fast lane Christopher, during our interview, had told me while in high school he once jumped from the second floor window just to feel the thrill. Not knowing for sure how I could tell that story without some doubt was put to rest while I was in Florida with friends having dinner which included conversations about the good, old Dunkirk and Fredonia days that we all hang on to. A friend Diana (Fuller) Harper reminisced about her days at Fredonia High School and that she remembered seeing fellow classmate Paul Christopher jumping from the school's second-floor window.
Christopher attended Eagle Street School from first grade through fourth grade. Grades fifth and sixth were at Satellite School (St. Anthony's) area due to construction at the school. He spent seventh and eighth grade at the Sheridan School. He went to Fredonia High School as a freshman. While in high school Christopher played football where he played the halfback position and linebacker position on defense. His football career lasted only to his junior year in high school. During his senior year he worked at Pontillo's Pizza owned by Gene Tomkowicz. Christopher needed the extra money and since he liked his job in the pizza industry he passed on football and dedicated his time to work.
After graduating from Fredonia High School he went to Jamestown Community College. After one semester he wanted to take a year off and decide on his future years.
The draft lottery was just around the corner only one more normal draft and the country was going into a new draft lottery in which a man's birthday would decide if he was to be drafted if needed. While waiting for the lottery, he received a letter from his Uncle Sam requesting his presence at the Induction Center in Buffalo.
Christopher was a proud member of the last draft before the new lottery draft system was in place
He received orders to report to Fort Dix, N.J. for eight weeks of Army boot camp. While en route to Buffalo, he met new soldier-to-be Dan McKinnon who would team up with Christopher on their flight to Fort Dix. After camp, Christopher was assigned to infantry with new orders to Fort Polk, La.
As he walked through the gate at Fort Polk he still to this day recalls the sign Tigerland, U.S. training center, infantry training. This training lasted nine weeks and included training in escape, evaluation and weapons, including the 45 pistol, M-16, M 79 grenade launcher and visiting the gas chamber.
Christopher recalled the Army created look alike Vietnamese villages in which extensive training on search and destroy tactics were being taught. Different scenarios were put in place dealing with being captured, along with being separated from one's unit while on patrol. Receiving the rank of E3 entitled him to attend the Army's NCO (non-commissioned officer) School which would be Christopher's next step in advancing his position.
In ratings he was off to Fort Benning for nine more weeks of NCO School. While at this, spit-shine and saluting anything that moved school, Christopher felt that this was not his calling, being assigned to a casual company doing very little and just just waiting for his next assignment.
One morning he decided instead of waiting for his new assignment that he would just volunteer for the Army's airborn combat division. With Vietnam in full gear, he was off to airborn and before he knew it he completed his five jumps. Two jumps were with no gear and no weapon, known as the Hollywood jumps. The next two jumps were with full gear and ammo. The last jump was a night jump with full gear. Along with an 8 by 12 certificate stating he was certified airborn, he also received his airborn pin and was now authorized to wear his combat boots with his Army's class A uniform, an honor that only airborn veterans receive.
When the celebrating was over, he received new orders to the Sensor School, unattended ground surveillance school in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. This school brought with its MOS, military occupational specialty, a top secret clearance issue.
With orders now to Vietnam he was assigned to the U.S. Army's 101st division headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay. His duties were to go to a predetermined, known or possible enemy infiltration route and set up a trail sensor system. This was a new Army system that would help determine the way the enemy moved in infiltrating from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. A group of sensors were placed in a set pattern usually about five meters apart. When the enemy walked in through this area the sensors would indicate the time, direction traveled, and total enemy count. This information was vital in setting up artillery fire missions or placing friendly units on these known trails hoping the enemy would walk the same trails now into a waiting American Army ambush.
Christopher's duties involved being inserted in these presumed enemy trails and setting up these sensor systems without being seen or noticed by enemy teams. It also involved him at times being inserted and waiting in LPs (listening posts) some times for three to four days to confirm enemy activity.
When he wasn't in the field, he would spend time in areas the Army called fire support bases. His home when not in the field at first was fire support base Ripcord, which was located in the Ashau Valley. Later Christopher was relocated because of increased enemy activity to fire support base O'Reilly, which was totally unmanned other than by a few specialty MOS soldiers by ARVN (army Republic Vietnam) forces.
Being on a fire base in Vietnam meant being harassed daily by incoming artillery. Christopher recalled the first support base O'Reilly being hit by enemy artillery 28 days in a row. Next he was moved to Nah Trang. While there Christopher attended U.S. Army Commando School that formed a sensor roving monitor recon team which included an 88 unit 20 implant team many times teaming up with army Republic Vietnam units. Missions would take him near and even outside Laos.
After spending his time in the field, he got to return back to fire support base Eagle. While at Eagle he would continue setting up sensor sites during his tour. While in Vietnam after six months in country a serviceman earned a five day R&R (rest and recuperation) period. When Christopher's choice came up, he chose Sydney, Australia. While taking on a special assignment he received a second R&R and Sydney was his choice again.
With Christopher's tour of duty over and like many other soldiers who had served in Vietnam he couldn't wait to return home. But on the other hand had deep feelings about leaving, feelings like leaving many of his friends and many new guys back in harms way. Returning back home to California with a planeload of Vietnam vets the group was sent to Oakland to be processed out. Processed out meant being not only physically, but mentally ready to return back to what others called the real world. It was common in the Vietnam War for a soldier being on a search and destroy patrol in a jungle on a Monday night and Friday of the same week being back home in the states.
While in California, Christopher was advised it would be best if he didn't wear his military uniform when he flew home, it may cause problems with the ant-war protesters and those who didn't want to serve, or with those who in their minds felt the war was wrong. He recalled from the base to the airport that his bus was met with protesters yelling and screaming at the servicemen. One protester had thrown a bag of blood at the bus. To him it seemed as if the protesters were blaming him for starting that war.
This was the hero's welcome in California in the '60s for their dedicated service. Veterans like Christopher who just wanted to help people in a country on the other side of the world that just were in need. Many women and children were being slaughtered, just because they were women and held little value?
Being a Vietnam veteran myself I realize that there will be many things that will never be said about the Vietnam War. Things that Vietnam veterans will just keep to themselves or will only share with other Vietnam veterans. Things that some veterans will just not say.
Many things they will take to their graves. So many Americans lost with 58,000-plus stories. Each fallen veteran had a story, they had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and children. These 58,000 Americans, who when they took that last step in California before boarding that airplane or ships gang plank, never realizing that would be the last step for them on U.S. soil. Their last memory of a country that at that time they did not know they would be giving up their life for.
I was given the chance a few years back to return to Vietnam with a group from Washington to revisit the areas of Vietnam I had been assigned to during the war. Upon arriving I had a few days to just rest or if I chose tour the country until such time the group I came with was ready to accomplish the items we had set out to accomplish on our main itinerary.
I decided to team up with a Vietnamese tour guide and was given the OK to visit anywhere I desired. When I returned to the areas I once served, I realized that something was wrong. Where were all those craters from the rounds we called in? Where were all those buildings that were blown apart? All those airstrikes that tore that country apart seemed non-existent. As we got up to our bases at Camp JJ Carroll, all one saw was rubber plants growing in their seventh year.
Khe Sanh became a coffee plantation, Dong Ha also was another rubber plantation. Could these places really have been the battle areas where all those 188 soldiers died that first Sunday in May? All those 283 dead U.S. Marines at Khe Sanh, a base that we abandoned and was no longer needed. Only days after that 77 day siege that after achieving what our General Westmorland felt was a great enemy body count to justify our losses.
The war Christopher participated in was a war of body count. Body count had made his war and dictated his duties. Body count was expected from all combat units. It was demanded.
Our country didn't want their land or their military equipment. The goal was to help the people of South Vietnam eliminate as many Viet Cong or North Vietnam soldiers. This was a bloody war for both sides.
For Vietnam veterans like Paul Christopher who came home and were greeted by anti-war protesters, one can feel sorry for him. He put his life on the line, came home and got blamed for starting that war.
Christopher didn't start the war in Vietnam. All he did was do his part and did some good things while serving. Thank you Paul Christopher for serving. Welcome home Paul Christopher. It's because of you we have a better country and because of you Vietnam has a better country. As for the protesters, some are still out there now, protesting something else. One thing is for sure about America. Our military will always fight to insure all Americans have their freedom.
We may always be in a war and we will always have our protesters. Thank God we will always have our brave military and our brave Paul Christopher's that went out and just did their duty.
Paul Christopher is our Hero of the Week.
- Submitted by John Fedyszyn of Fredonia