By Rodney H. George
In the Spring of '69 I was a newly assigned lieutenant to D company, 1/11 Armored Cavalry Regiment. D company found itself in the never-to-be-repeated situation of actually having five lieutenant's for the three tank platoons. As the junior and very supernumerary officer, I rode as the loader or as a rear deck rifleman on a tank with an experienced platoon leader. This gave me an excellent chance to learn my job in the field without the crushing weigh of being in charge. Unfortunately, I also drew all the assignments none else wanted in the company, like leading night dismounted ambushes, sitting night radio watch and ferrying repaired tanks up from Xuan Loc.
One periodic job no one wanted was currency change officer, so one afternoon as we pulled into a night defensive position in the rubber, I got a radio call from the CO to catch the log bird on the backhaul to Blackhorse Base at Xuan Loc for a special assignment. Stepping off the Chinook I realized I was back in a different world when I got a reaming from a Major on the hook pad about not saluting him smartly. Still there are advantages to a permanent camp like Blackhorse Base so I grabbed a shower and was able to sleep in a cot, both firsts for the month. The next morning I joined 14 other lieutenants and was issued a new gray samsonite briefcase and signed for $75,000 in new Military Payment Certificates. A Finance Corps Major gave me a lecture about "Your job is to swap new MPC for old series MPC for US troops only. If you don't come back with $75k in new and old MPC the Army will garnishee your wages until the difference is made up. One exchange per soldier - no exceptions. No money can be exchanged after midnight for any reason. After 24:00 hours tonight it's sin loi."
The rest of the LT's are sent back to their units. Maybe because I looked as much of a FNG as I was, or maybe to make sure I didn't abscond with the cash to Saigon, the LTC assigns an SP4 from his office to accompany me and the money back to the troop. Wally is nervous about going out to "the field". He asks me if he should bring his "sleeping stuff" or if I thought he'd be back in base camp that night. I suggest he grab a poncho liner, but he says clerks are not authorized weapons or field gear. We rushed out to the log pad, but ended up waiting all day to get a slick going out to D company. Turns out Wally's went to college in Virginia too and we chat about the good times we had on dates at the women's colleges in western Virginia.. About making out in the "Pines Cottages" at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg after a mixer and helping our dates sneak in the dorms after curfew at Southern Seminary in Buena Vista . He tells me he joined the army to get the GI Bill benefits so he could finish college when he gets out and get his CPA. "A job with a big eight accounting firm. That's where the BIG money is."
That evening I'm back with the troop in a new NDP and Wally and I set up our little money laundering shop in the CP tent extension off the CO's M577 track. Wally has all the 3-part forms in order and the troops line up outside the tent for the money swap. I'm counting in the old MPC and counting out the new, trying to keep the monopoly money in organized piles on the field desk. The CP radio on the command net is connected to a speaker in the track. Suddenly a calm voice on the radio says "Thunder 7 reports incoming". Then in seconds a more excited voice "Thunder 4 has incoming!" "Fire Base Andy has movement in the wire!". Then the voices overlap as too many people try to transmit at once. The CO is yelling "Stand To - Everybody UP!".
I grab my M16 and run for the perimeter. The line of troopers with old money in hand has melted away. Diesel engines are cranking up on the tanks to provide turret hydraulic power and I look back to see Wally in the light of our Coleman lantern in the tent stuffing the money back in the briefcase. Then I realize I'm not assigned to a tank at the moment and don't have anyplace I'm supposed to run to. Tank 2-4 is parked in the perimeter, but it's power plant is on the ground behind it, the engine deck beside the pack and all the access hatches wide open. Motor Daddy had pulled the engine/transmission on 2-4 to fix a major fuel leak and the regular crew are manning 45, the XO's tank. I dive under the hull of 2-4 just as mortars begin dropping within the perimeter. The first round hits right by the CP tent and then I lose count as I try to decide if I'm safer under the middle of the hull, or hunkered close against the road wheels. The incoming rounds are going off with only a little bang and throwing up big fountains of mud. Some rational part of my mind says "gee, they are firing HE with a delay fuse setting, trying to get a hit on top on a tank". Then I wonder what will happen if a delay round lands in the empty hull above me. Will it come through? or will it just puncture the exposed aluminum fuel tanks and shower me in burning fuel? The open engine hatches above me seem like a funnel directing unseen falling rounds towards me. It seems real dark and lonely under that tank. The tanks on either side of me open up with their main guns. I try to see what they are firing at, but I've lost my night vision from the lantern. I check my rifle to see if I have a round in the chamber and fumble with the receiver until I realize I still have an plastic ball point pen stamped "US Army" clutched in my hand. My web gear is hanging on the tent pole back in the CP, so I only have one magazine. The 4.2 mortar track is hanging flares now but I still can't see anything. God, I hope Charlie doesn't spot this dead tank in the perimeter and decide to come through here. Lots of tracers now - mostly orange going out, but I see some green coming in. A burst of green hits the hull above me and the spent green tracer pellet from a round bounces under the track with me. For a second I can see my hands shaking in the sickly green light until it burns out. Finally the firing dies down and I decide I'd be better off in the turret of 2-4 rather than under it even with no power. I clamber up the road wheels and over the right track, then haul myself over the sponson boxes, and crawl over the bussle rack and slither head first into the tank commander's hatch, breaking my fall with my hands on the turret ring. I feel a lot safer with 50 tons of tank wrapped around me.
The rest of the night lasts about a 100 years. 2-4 still has a .50 mounted on the cupola and I dig spare ammo out for it, but can't find an M79 for the parachute flare rounds in the bussel rack so I'll have no light unless someone else hangs it. Without the pack there is no power for the radios so I don't have any idea what is going on. Alone and with no power there is no turning the turret. Finally it is morning and we stand down. As I'm climbing off 2-4 I see the engine compartment is full of diesel fuel; it looks like an oily swimming pool. With all the hatches open both saddle tanks were ripped open by shrapnel. Motor Daddy will have a bigger job fixing the fuel leak than he planned.
I walk over to 1-1 to talk to Dick, the LT I'm assigned to understudy. Dick says we didn't have anybody get wounded so there's no need for a medivac, but the log bird will be in later We share a box of C's and I get ham and lima beans for breakfast. Oh well. I head up to the CP to find out what the boss wants to do about finishing the currency exchange. He wants to roll soon and has me go from track to track with my recovered samsonite in hand swapping money. . Vietnamese are appearing outside the wire and yelling, waving old MPC. I ignore the Snuffies bartering new MPC for old at ridiculous exchange rates. It seems to take hours to swap all the money. I wonder where Wally has slipped off to and why he isn't helping with this endless paperwork . I'll ream him good when I catch him. Finally I'm done, with every name checked off and a signed exchange form from everyone on the list. I head back to the 577 for coffee and to see about catching a lift back to Xuan Loc. Two platoons crank up and leave on the morning road sweep. In the TOC someone asks me "what was that guy's name who was with you? I need it for the morning report." Who are you talking about? "That REMF clerk that came out with you. He got killed last night and had no dog tags.."
I don't know Wally's last name. But I still think about him.