SELECTED ARTICLES FROM THUNDER RUN
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Charley Robert C. Merrirnan
Somebody said the superintendents house was on fire, so the five of us walked down the hill from school to watch it burn.
Four of us were seniors that spring of 1964 - Larry, James, Jimmy and me. Charley was the fifth member of our group. He was a junior, and we let him run around with us as long as he didn't do any-thing stupid.
The day was chilly. Larry, James, Jimmy and I had on coats; Charley wore a short-sleeved shirt. If Charley owned a coat, it was a secret kept from everybody who knew him. Charlie's father was a pulp wood cutter. None of us had ever seen him, except when he drove his loaded log truck to the railroad where the cars that carried pulp were parked. Charlie's family lived back in the woods, the deep woods, down a dirt road somewhere. His family didn't have much. None of us did, but Charlie's family had even less than the rest of us.
Charley was a bright kid, quick and intelligent. Everybody has known a kid like Charley, known that somewhere behind those quick remarks and comic attitude lay an ability to do more than he did. Charley could have made excellent grades, but he chose not to. Teachers wouldn't have known what to do with him if he had. Besides, in Charlie's life there was reality, then everything else. And the real-ity was that Charley was the son of a pulp wood cutter. Barring some great miracle, Charley would always be the son of a pulp wood cutter.
The superintendent's house was really burning by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. The fire had burned through the roof . The five of us just stood around for a minute or so, watching the house burn. Then Charley said, "I bet we can save some of their stuff", and before we could stop him, Charley opened a window and crawled inside the burning house. We four seniors stood outside the window, taking whatever Charley handed out. Pretty soon we had a pile of chairs, small tables and books stacked beside a pecan tree.
Charley had just started on a closet when the fireman arrived. The school was between two towns, each four miles away, and it took the volunteer fireman a little while to get there. Charley was handing out a pile of clothes when one of the fire-man ran up to us yelling. "What do you boys think your doing? You're giving the fire more oxygen! Shut that window!" Grownups knew more than us kids, so we got Charley out of the house, shut the window and watched the fireman spray water on the house.
After the fire was out, we went inside the house. Everything was burned; nothing usable was left. We went back outside.
The basketball coach came up and said, "I hear you boys saved a lot of stuff from the house." One of us said, "Yes sir, but it was Charlie's idea. He went inside. All we did was take what he handed out the window."
The coach turned to Charley, who stood there with his hands in his pockets. The day had turned colder. The coach said, "You look cold. Where's your coat?" Charley replied, "I don't have it with me." The coach just nodded. He said, "You did a good job. I think you've done enough for today. Why don't I drive you home." Charley said, "It's only one o'clock." The coach laughed. "I know. But I don't think the superintendent will mind."
We four seniors graduated that year. Larry went to work for a telephone company. In September, James and Jimmy went off to college. I joined the Army.
In August of 1967 I met up with Larry at Bear Cat, base camp of the 9th Infantry Division. Larry had been drafted in 1966. We sat around in his hooch for a while, drank beer, talked about people back home.
After I got back home, I learned that James had graduated from college and had a job with NASA in Houston. I ran into Jimmy at a high school foot-ball game in 1969. He had put on a few pounds, didn't look like the all-district tackle from high school. Jimmy was married, had a kid, taught at a junior high. He said we were doing the right thing in Viet-nam. We had to stop those Communists somewhere. But: "I've got a wife and kid, Bob. I can't become involved in a war thousands of miles from home."
That takes care of everybody but Charley.
See, the thing is, Charley didn't have to go in that burning house. He could have been just like the rest of us, stayed outside and watched it burn. But Charley wasn't like that. Peoples' things would be lost if somebody didn't do something. And al-though Charley had absolutely nothing in common with the superintendent, he went inside the burning house. Charley knew what had to be done, what he had to do.
In 1965, Charley enlisted in the Army, went to Vietnam and died there.
In April 1988, I was in Dallas on Army business. I went to Fair Park. There's a monument there, lists the names of Texans who died in Vietnam. There were a few names I wanted to see; one in particular. I found him.
COLLIER, CHARLEY HOLTON 9 MARCH 1947-15 NOVEMBER
Mt. Pleasant, Texas
I never knew Charlie's middle name.
Robert Merriman served with Air Cav Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Vietnam '66- '67 This true story appeared in the 1st quarter 94 issue of Thunder Run.
TOGETHER THEY STAND, HONORABLE AND PROUD
By ROBERTA WOLFF
The Holiday, Inn, Riverwalk North, hosted a military reunion August 14-16, 1992.
Those attending were not Veterans of WWII or Korea or the Persian Gulf War. The men who came to San Antonio served during the dingiest, most tawdry war ever fought by Americans, at a time when our nation was blinded by self-centeredness and consumed by its own self-importance.
Some in the group were meeting for the seventh time, some came for their very first reunion. And some were sad, some bitter, some apprehensive lest old memories overwhelm them, some angry, some haunted--some possessed, still, by their own nightmares. Some were simply overjoyed to be reunited with their brothers.
They were the veterans of No Mans War, young men of the 1960s and early 70s, aging now and gray. Willing or unwilling, believers in the cause or not, they had picked up the baggage of a responsibility many of their peers refused to carry--the Vietnam War.
These men came to San Antonio to celebrate Together Then, Together Again, all members of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia--the survivors, the found.
They came from all over the country, some from as far away as Hawaii. One man flew in from Puerto Rico simply for Saturdays program. Most are civilians again, separated at the end of their obligation to serve, some retired from regular Army careers, but some still wear the uniform, at least for a few more years.
Plastic-jacketed cards gave names, dates of service in country, squadron and troop. Jaunty red ribbons hung beneath the cards, proclaiming their unit pride. For years many had not spoken of their experiences. The society they lived in did not want to know, nor to remember. But they have not forgotten. Now they speak again, to each other, and some family members who accompany them hear their stories for the first time.
Nor have these men neglected the 716 comrades who did not come home. Next to the scarlet silk ribbon on each veterans tag hangs another, black, proclaiming 716 KIA, a testimonial of the remembrance of their dead.
Stories of unrecognized and unrewarded heroism and valor surfaced. Not all bravery is honored with medals. In a womens meeting, the wife of a medic gives her husbands dates of service and unit and asks, if any of your husbands were in that unit and wounded during this time and sent home, please tell me their names. He still carries a burden because he doesnt know if some of the men he treated lived or died. He didnt believe in war, so he wouldnt fight, but he served his country in the only way he could, and Im proud of him.
In response, another wife says: It doesnt matter if he believed in it, he still went. He didnt run away when others did. Many of our men are alive because of men like your husband who wouldnt carry a gun but would crawl through live weapons fire to save another man. You should be proud. That took incredible courage.
Stories of small miracles: the ACAV commander who twice ran his vehicle over mines, once tossed by the explosion with his turret ring, gun shield and 50-caliber machine gun only to land without a scratch. Possessor now of two Purple Hearts, in neither contact did he spill a drop of blood or break a bone. His wounds --contusions, bruises and muscle strains-- resulted in evacuation by helicopter, and memories, mostly now of his incredible luck. Some ran over one mine and died.
Stories of pathos: the retired general, ex-commander and helicopter pilot, greeting his sergeant major and introducing him to a table of helicopter types -- one a paraplegic and others bearing the scars of wounds received -- as the only man who ever flew with me and didnt get wounded.
And humor. The sergeant major responded: I might not have been wounded, but once you almost dumped me out the side door of a Loach.
A sergeant first class and a shotgun were wounded by the same shrapnel, the sergeant on the arm, the shotgun on the butt. The sergeant received a Purple Heart, though he said his would was minor, the shotgun is an honored possession, having saved another man a severe leg wound. A burly ex-sergeant, easily 6 feet 5 inches tall, sent over in 1969 as an adviser to work with a group of Vietnamese military, reported that every time they came under fire, he was pushed to the ground and covered with about 10 small bodies, trying to insulate him from bullets. He didnt smoke. The Vietnamese soldiers were protecting their cigarette supply.
The gamut of dress ran from suits to dungarees and cutoffs. They came from all walks of life. An ex-career enlisted man, first sergeant in Nam, is now a Methodist minister, another is a Pentecostal missionary. The General, George Patton, son of WWIIs Patton, and his lovely wife were every inch the brownshoe Army. After repeatedly being addressed as Mrs. Patton at the ladles meeting, she told the group, The nicest thing about Georges retirement was I got my first name back. Its Joanne.
They bought and wore shirts, black, blazoned with bloody scarlet and white decorations, the combat patch of their unit. They wore them proudly on the streets of the city.
Twenty years ago, the nation reviled these men; some were spit on when they returned from war. If they were not ridiculed, they were ignored. These men were not greeted as patriots. No bands played at their return, in contrast to the welcoming revelry for the veterans of World War II, the returnees from Korea, and those who came back from the Persian Gulf War.
Today, they are back, involved in a self-directed renaissance, taking for themselves what was despoiled years ago by an insensitive and unheeding nation: their self-respect and pride in their accomplishments. This regiment of veterans is rebuilding itself. They no longer battle the enemy, but they battle nevertheless. They look for each of the 21,000 who served with the Black Horse in Vietnam. They invite their brothers to come home, to join them in celebrating their kinship.
This years reunion, which was initially planned for 600 participants, brought together nearly 1,000 on Saturday night to eat Texas barbecue, to hear Patton speak and remember. As slides flashed on the wall, showing the people, the places and the operations of the 11th Cavalry in Vietnam, voices murmured names of comrades, reminiscing, recalling incidents.
Then, a picture of The Wall flashed on the screen. The black marble length gleamed with the golden names inscribed. Wreaths and flowers littered the ground in front of it. A voice called out: Attention. Let us stand for a moment of silence to honor our fallen brothers. And, a regiment reborn, 1,000 rose.
The silence hung heavily. Men clung to their loved ones and to each other. One voice, alone and unaccompanied, echoed in song a tribute to the 716 who fell and to the courage and renascent pride of the 21,000 who lived but still pay the price of Vietnam. Picture after picture of Vietnam War memorials paraded in review until the song was done. Then, a lone bugler played taps.
Roberta Wolff of Fort Worth, Texas, is a retired teacher of philosophy and management. She is a volunteer mediator with the Dispute Resolution Service of Denton County. Her husband David L. Wolff, a retired command sergeant major, U.S. Army, served in Vietnam during 1966-67 and in 1969, both times with the 11th Cavalry.
This article was published on September 6,
1992, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and was reprinted with the permission of the author.
A Trip Down Memory Lane (A.K.A. Thunder Road) By Ty Dodge
Why in the world are you going to Vietnam?!? I heard that question a hundred times last spring as my wife, Florence, and I prepared for our trip. Couldnt they make the connection that this fifty-ish guy might have been there once before?
Ill have to admit that questioning the question was far less difficult than answering it. Was I healing old wounds? Tying up emotional loose ends? Seeking affirmation of the sacrifice of so many brave Americans? Certainly all those things were kindling the flame to go back. But it really boiled down to this: Vietnam was one of the most significant experiences of my lifeand going back was simply a chance to remember.
Florence and I started in Hanoi and worked our way south through Hue, Danang, Dalat, and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is, as you may recall, a place of extraordinary beauty. And the Vietnamese people proved to be among the friendliest weve ever encounteredespecially when they discovered we were American! Toi la nguoi My! I am an American! Four little words that unlocked a thousand smiles!
It seemed that everything had changedand nothing had changed at all. The communist country of Vietnam is striving mightily to capitalize on capitalism. Yet it is still the dirt poor country we remember from a quarter century ago. From Hanoi to the poorest villages, though, there were smiles and hot tea. Everywhere, smiles and hot tea.
But, if seeing the country and meeting the people was the main course, returning to Cav Country was the dessert! The last leg of our journey took us up Highway 13Thunder Roadinto Song Be and Tay Ninh Provinces. Names a Blackhorse Trooper will never forget flooded my mind: Ben Cat, Cu Chi, An Loc, Loc Ninh, Phuoc Long, Bu Dop!
My objective in Song Be was to find FSB Buttons. It was there that I Troop was hammered in the early morning darkness of November 4th, 1969. Jim Brady was killed. Several others wounded. I really wanted to stand again on that hallowed ground. Buttons, though, is far from a regular tourist stop, and our trip planners were somewhat skeptical wed find it.
Like I say, though, things hadnt changed much in a quarter century. A few old battle maps rescued from a footlocker in our basement, and several others graciously loaned me by COL Leach, put us right on the spot where 3d Platoon made its stand that night in 69!
I had wondered for years how I might feel should I ever stand again on ground Id defended as a 24 year old first lieutenant. Would it be painful? Or sorrowful? Melodramatic? Or filled with emotion? Now I know, though Im not sure I can adequately describe those feelings. Perhaps they included relief in having survived Vietnam ... yet joy in reliving the experience ... thankfulness ... renewed respect for a worthy foe ... affirmation of the sacrifice made by so many. More than anything, it was a moment filled simply with excitement!
I was happy to be able to share this spot and this experience with Florence, who has listened to my Blackhorse stories for so many years. But I wished, too, that I could share it with the NVA soldier who fired his RPGs into my tracks. I wondered if he were still living. I suspect that he was simply fulfilling his duty to his countryas were wethat night of November 4th, 1969. And I wished that I could share the moment with John Brady whose memory endures on Line 27, Panel 16 West, of a black granite wall in our nations capital.
Just a few meters from where we stood, a monument rose above the trees. We walked to it. It was a memorial to the NVA who died in battle there. We stood in quiet respect, taking in the sheer immensity of the moment.
Actually, each side had a memorial on this battleground. Theirs was the tall, unkempt monument before me. Ours, the worn and broken berm behind me. And one more memorial was dedicated as Florence and I walked the now-silent battlefield: a handful of red earth I scooped up and sealed in a baggie. Many young men died that night twenty six years ago. Were the causes for which we fought honorable and worthy? Who knows. Not even the wisdom of history will tell us for sure. Yet it can be said without doubt that the men on the field of battle served honorably and bravely through that night.
A reminder of the wars continuing influence on Vietnam lay half hidden in the grass at our feet: an unexploded artillery round. We learned later that three children died just a month earlier from such a piece of leftover ordnance.
Blackhorse blood had long been washed from Song Bes soil, but I scooped up one last baggie of earth for old times sake. And, as we turned east and walked to the road, I noticed that my hands were once again the rust-red color they had been so long ago.
In a way, I wished that color would stay with me forever, that I might
Reflections of a Former Bugler By David R. Berger The morning started out like most mornings after a shift change, body struggling to function, eyes trying to focus through extra lubricant and my feet wanted to paddle along meekly. Just make it through the next eight hours. The I came to the realization it was Veterans Day. How ironic, I thought. It seemed just about everyday started out having to push yourself in Vietnam.
My yet-to-have-coffee mind started to wander. My first thoughts went back to my old unit in Nam. Then in my mind came the feel of dirty canvas, steel, the ribbed handle of my machine gun and my left hand wanted to pat the medical bag that I always had nearby.
As I drank my coffee and watched the operation of my production machine, I could smell diesel exhaust fumes and swamp mud. Then my mind got into a somber and almost depressing mood as I tried to picture faces of friends and acquaintances that had gone on before. Then somehow my mind sort of twisted and turned.
There, as clear as could be, I could remember back in high school playing taps at funerals for war veterans. Although I now understood, I didnt at the time understand how living war veteran comrades could laugh, goose one another, goof off and maybe pass a flask around and almost seem disrespectful before the funeral program started.
When the final ceremony would start, these aged worn out veterans with their blank firing dummy rifles would stand their worn bodies straight and sure as wind worn granite forming a formidable line of resistance as if to say, To the last man..
It was my job to play taps over the casket while my partner at a distance in the bushes would be the echo. I was not emotionally connected with the deceased. It was my job to blow that horn and end the burial ceremony.
When my partner and I were done, I could never understand the somber, mellow attitude of the old vets around me. My part was so small and yet I would get remarks of good job, well done or a clasp on the shoulder from people with heavy hearts. I just never understood.
Now that I am past middle age and have had a taste of war, I somehow look back to the time when uncertainty and the gloom of death seemed to surround a group of us then young men in uniform. No matter how bad the dogs of war seemed, we were somehow resilient and formed bonds of comradeship to cause us to rise above our abilities. Although we all stumbled miserably at times, it was in those roughest of times when the cloud of death would seem to cover us that a spark would flash from one of us in the form of a nod, a wink, a slightly raised fist or a pat on the head and resolve of a group of young soldiers would be, Well all go down together.
The dogs of war were no match for the friendship and comradeship that happens at those moments. Even though years pass, you never seem to forget those that went down around you. They are forever etched in your mind and heart.
When the coffin is lowered for one of those surviving comrades in civilian life, you find yourself standing with a body that is no longer a shining example of strength and fortitude but with a resolve of, To the last man I will stand with those friends etched in my mind and heart and I will go down with them..
When my time comes, sing my song, One Step at a Time, Dear Savior. Then as the final act, blow those taps upon the air of the land.
Then as I so often experienced as a young bugler, I will try to respond with a gust of air, gentle breeze or, as it so often seemed, in almost a vacuum, a waft or a fluff of air will move as if to say, Relax, I am in a restful and peaceful land. Soldier for God! By Brother John B. Maganzini We all hold on to memories and for most of us the memories of our years in the U.S. Army and in Vietnam are among the most prominent in our minds. For me, those memories are directly linked to my present life. I am a member of the Franciscan Order, the Order that was founded by Saint Francis, who, too, was a former soldier.
People are stunned when they learn that before I entered the Order, I served in Vietnam. They usually preface their statements with, Really? What brought you to decide to give your life to God and Gods people? The answer is quite simple.
During my two years in the Army, I had the chance to meet many wonderful people and to really sense the term brotherhood. It took on a new meaning for me and I know I faced God in situations and in people time and time again. I learned the word service in serving both my Country and my brothers. I learned what it meant to give totally of oneself. I learned the meaning of the word commitment when I was committed to doing my part. I learned the words faith, hope and love as I spoke with wonderful Vietnamese civilians who came to work in our Units.
Finally, I learned the word God in a new and wonderful way. God was there and the strength that got me through and the light that I could look for on very dark days. God was in the eyes of all I met. God was within.
So, my decision was made! It had to be a life of service and commitment with other brothers who sought to find God in the people they minister to.
My life in Vietnam brought me to God. When I share my faith journey, my experiences in the 11th Armored Cavalry are part of the story. You see, brothers, I found God among you! The Box Had No Label By Robert C. Merriman
There is about the Wall a strange silence, as though fifty-eight thousand souls gather there, asking for the silence. You would think the names would rage against their fate. Perhaps they know a peace we cannot yet comprehend.
I walked slowly along the paved path in front of the Wall. I wasnt after a particular name, not even really looking at the Wall, just taking in the whole thing. The Wall is black, shiny black, and it reflects faces that stare at the names. I saw my face, but looked away.
People leave things there medals, old jungle boots worn down to bare leather, books of poetry, notes, a teddy bear.
A teddy bear. I didnt look long at the teddy bear, because I saw a boys mother cleaning out a closet or a room where things of the past lay for more than twenty years. I saw the boys mother open a box. The box had no label. Perhaps the boys mother didnt want to remember what was inside the box. But she opened the box, and she saw the teddy bear and she fell onto the box, clutching the bear as tightly as she had clutched her son. And she cried.
The bear was her babys companion. The bear kept away monsters of the night. The boy slept with his bear, toddled to breakfast or off to bed or around the house, hugging the bear or holding it by an arm. Every day the boy told his mother what he and the bear had done, the places they had gone, the good people they met. And when the mother rocked her baby to sleep, the boy held his bear, his eyes closing slowly. The boy fought sleep, just as he would later fight death.
The bear waited a long time. He had nothing to do in the box. There were no monsters in the box, no frightful things to guard against,. No boy to protect.
The mother found the bear, and she took the bear to her son. She did not take the bear to some cemetery filled with strangers, but to the place where her son is, among friends. There, where his boy is, the bear can rest. All the monsters are gone now, and the bear can sleep again with his boy. The boy understands. So do his fifty-eight thousand friends. More than anyone else, more than the boys mother, fifty-eight thousand friends understand.
I saw the teddy bear, and I walked away quickly. I walked away quickly
because my children had teddy bears.
He Could Heal No Wounds, But . . . By Ty Dodge Having been hit by two RPGs when FSB Buttons was overrun by a large North Vietnamese force, I lay in a hospital with the better part of my right thigh and three inches of my femur gone. Tubes protruded from here and there, and shrapnel covered my body. And, while I wasnt looking forward to eight months in traction, a more immediate irritation was the full body cast my shipping container that encased me from chest to toe.
After a couple of weeks of lying on my back like a stranded turtle, my attitude simply checked out on me. The hospital staff was overwhelmed and I wasnt getting the attention I wanted. It wasnt fair, and I didnt like it.
So it was that I became somewhat of a pain in the neck to the doctors and nurses and corpsmen around me. Sure, I could hear other guys suffering. But that was their problem. In fact, I wished theyd be more quiet so I could get some sleep.
Then he found his way into my life. I could see him shuffling slowly along near the entrance to our ward about twenty beds away. Occasionally hed run into something and reorient himself. Bandages covered his face and his eyes, and he was navigating by Braille feeling his way along with his hands. Every now and then hed stop by a bed and say something, then move on.
Finally he arrived at my bed. Ran into it, actually. I watched him with self pity in my heart. After all, I had problems of my own. At least this guy could get out of bed!
His hand brushed my cast and he tapped on it. Then, in a course, low voice he said to me, Man, what happened to you? They got you wrapped in concrete! You gonna be OK? You be able to get home any time soon?
Another voice chimed in from the bed next to mine. Dont need to answer him.
Why not? I asked.
Cant hear. Lost his hearing and most of his face to a mortar round.
The man whose face was wrapped in gauze thumped my cast one more time. Im prayin for ya, dude. Hang tough, he said.
Then he shuffled away.
My eyes followed him till tears clouded my vision.
At that moment in my life it wasnt so much by body that needed the
cure, as my attitude and on that morning, a faceless young trooper healed it.
Fire Fight to Remember By Ricky D. Kester They called us snipers. We would set up night and some daylight ambushes. I was a sniper between 10-1-69 and 6-15-70 after being transferred from a zippo.
Back in the first part of the 70s, the sniper squad was as follows:
Sarge from Georgia. He was the man in charge, one fearless fighting fool.
Peabody our crazy radioman
Big Brother from New York, if Im not mistaken.
Carman from York, PA. He was also transferred from the same zippo, a good man.
2nd Lt. Another good man. He had just replaced a guy from Hawaii
SP4 Ricky Kester . me, the one with all the hair.
On this particular night, we were to set up our ambush only 75 meters in front of the companies NDP. We were told to dig in deep and when we hear them coming, give them Hell! Then get down because HHT (3/11) was going to open up with everything they had in our direction except the M79 grenade launcher.
We were briefed and at dusk went out and dug in. We had already set up our trip flares and claymores. It was another very hot night. We were dirty and sweaty. The mosquitos seemed especially frisky this particular night. As all 11th Brothers know, this was just another tropical night in the bush.
About two hours later, Sarge heard them coming in. In another minute we all heard them. Then they started to dig in. We know thats their only chance to survive and still cause damage. They never got the chance. We opened up with all we had. Then HHT opened up with all they had! Needless to say, the VC never got off a shot. The six of us were as far down in our holes as we could get and that wasnt far enough!. Being on the receiving end of an entire Troops firepower was something to behold. It was awesome! We were scared s***less. If we would have lifted a finger out of that hole, it would have been gone. Dirt from the 50s and 60s hitting the ground was raining in on us. We were hoping they would remember where we were and not accidentally use the M79s! We knew they wouldnt, but the thought did cross our minds (not a very pleasant thought).
I dont recall how long, but the first firefight seemed like hours. The VC started moving out fast. The six of us opened up again trying to get them before they got away! HHT also opened up again with full weapons. After this second cease fire, we heard nothing. We thought since they knew we were out there, they might return and try and get us. We stayed tuned the rest of this long steamy night.
They had had enough and were gone! The next morning we searched the AO. As usual, they carried off their dead and wounded. We collected lots of AKs, SKSs, RPGs and grenades. There were no bodies anywhere.
Just being on the other end of the 11th ACRs mighty firepower is something we will never forget! No wonder we kept the VC and NVA across the border.
I take pride in that we might have saved a life or two of our fellow Troopers by catching the enemy early before they had a chance to dig in and cause some real damage.
This firefight took place in the fishhook area on one of the trails
coming in from Cambodia. If anyone can remember this particular firefight, write me and
CAMBODIA, DAY I By Frank R. Cambria
The events of May 1st, 1970, are etched into the recesses of my mind forever. My platoon (3rd Plt, G Trp), was selected as a scout platoon for the 11th Cav which spearheaded the assault across Fishhook area of the Cambodian border. Because of heavy casualties during the previous month, my 44-man platoon was down to only 31 men and each of my tracks, including my own ACAV, were short one or two crew members as we charged into Cambodia.
After two brief skirmishes, my platoon triggered an L-shaped ambush by two NVA battalions as we scouted an area on the right flank of the Regiment.
The ambush initiated when one of my men on a Sheridan 30 feet to the right of my ACAV suddenly exploded. A 6-inch piece of his torso flew threw the air like a missile and struck me in the face with the force of a baseball bat, knocking me unconscious for a few seconds.
My platoon was on line with two tracks on the right flank positioned in a right enfilade, and each track was firing every possible weapon. Doc Paul M. Dailey, my medic who was also a Conscientious Objector, was tossing cans of machine gun ammo up to me and feeding ammo to my left gunner, SP4 Dillon. My driver, SP4 Braun, was popping up and down from his hatch firing bursts with his M-16.
The noise of the battle was beyond adequate description with the fiftys pounding away, the M6Os spitting out long lines of tracers, M16s popping, M79s thumping, and the tremendous KA-BOOMS! from the Sheridan main guns firing flechette rounds which punctuated the clatter. Added to the incessant blare were incoming RPG explosions, enemy AK-47s and machine guns and Soviet claymore mines exploding.
A squad of NVA was assaulting the now silent Sheridan to my right and was attempting to mount it to turn its guns on my other tracks. With the Sheridans three-man crew either dead or wounded, the track was as defenseless as a dying elephant. I saw this happening but I was having a duel with two bunkers to my front and could not immediately disengage.
Because my track was short a gunner, my right machine gun, which faced the downed Sheridan, was unmanned. I yelled for Dillon to move over to the right gun, but he also was unable to disengage because he and another ACAV were slugging it out with an enemy platoon in trenches.
Realizing the danger to the rest of the platoon if the enemy got inside the Sheridan, Doc Dailey jumped up and grabbed the unmanned machine gun. He screamed like a wild man, perhaps because he was torn between his religious beliefs and his desire to protect his buddies in the platoon. He had never fired a military weapon, but he handled the machine gun expertly as if was a natural appendage of his body. He completely stopped the assault on the Sheridan, killing several enemy, saving the Sheridans two surviving crew members and preventing the enemy from turning the Sheridans guns on the rest of the platoon.
But Daileys heroic actions focused the enemys attention on him and a minute later a RPG round hit him in his upper chest area.
The white heat from the blast 4 feet away from me burnt off all of my exposed hair and about 40 pieces of shrapnel peppered my back. The concussion dazed me and burst my ear drums, causing blood to flow from my ears and eyes.
Two more explosions rocked my ACAV. Shrapnel from the explosions hit Dillon in his right forearm. To my surprise, he was still on his feet, cussing up a storm while firing and feeding his gun with one arm.
I could no longer hear the sounds of the battle, but I could feel the impact of bullets against my gun shield and even felt the turbulence in the air as bullets whizzed past me. I pumped through a can of ammo and as I reached for another, an AK-47 round hit my right shoulder, creating a gapping wound. My right arm went into spasms and flopped around like a fish out of water. With my left hand, I grabbed my right arm and shoved it into my trousers to stabilize it.
Now, like my left gunner, I had only one arm with which to fight. My glasses were covered with dust and blood which severely impaired my vision. I quickly wiped the sleeve of my fatigue jacket across my glasses, leaving a red smear across both lenses. Now I could see, but the world I saw was blurred and painted blood red.
The NVA soldier who shot me was standing in a spider hole only 40 or 50 feet away, exposed from the waist up as he reloaded his AK-47. I knew it would take me too long to reload my fifty, so I pulled out my pistol with my left hand, fired .... and missed. My hand was unsteady and my vision was blurred.
Suddenly, everything seemed to move in slow motion, like God had intervened. It takes only 5 seconds to reload a AR-47, but the enemy soldier moved as if he were in a slow motion film. We stared into each others eyes. At first each of us saw hatred, but as I squeezed off round after round, I saw the hatred in his eyes turn to fear as each of my shots became steadier and he could not speed up his movements to reload. My seventh and last round hit him square in the chest and knocked him flat.
Through the thick smoke covering my ACAV, I could see a line of enemy soldiers preparing to climb out of their trenches. My driver saw this too and was putting out as much lead as he could with his M-16.
I considered reloading my fifty but realized that I could not handle the heavy machine gun without the use of my right hand. I reached outside my cupola and grabbed my M-16 and, like a fool, flipped the switch to full automatic. Trying to control an M-16 on rock and roll with one hand was impossible and my rounds went wild. My bandoleer of M16 ammo disappeared during one of the explosions, so I dropped the rifle and reached behind me for the M79 grenade launcher. It was damaged by one of the RPGs and when I picked it up, the stock fell off.
I then grabbed a hand grenade and tried to pull the pin out with my teeth like I saw John Wayne do in so many movies. It would not budge and all I succeeded in doing was to chip a tooth. My absurd thought at that moment was that in my 3 years of excellent military training as both an enlisted man and as an officer, no one addressed the issue of how a one armed man should pull the pin on a hand grenade!
I was in a near panic. We were about to be overrun and the rest of the Squadron had not yet arrived. I had a Sheridan and its crew down, which exposed the right flank and endangered the remainder of my platoon. All three of my radios were knocked out and I lost all communication. My own ACAV was virtually defenseless with the entire crew wounded or dead. I couldnt arm my fifty. My M16 ammo disappeared. My M79 was destroyed. I had a case of grenades with me but I couldnt pull out the damned pins. I was about to drop inside the ACAV and grab a case of M16 ammo, but when I looked down between my legs, I saw Daileys body directly beneath me. I could not do it. Instead, I awkwardly reloaded my .45 in a feeble attempt to defend my track.
Suddenly an idea hit me. I grabbed a hand grenade and hooked the ring on the gun sight of my fifty and yanked the pin out. Yelling at the top of my lungs, I awkwardly threw it and dozen or so more. When I ran out of fragmentation grenades, I threw smoke grenades, a CS gas grenade, termite grenades and even trip flares. I threw everything I could get my one good hand on including empty ammo cans. In less than three minutes, the entire area in front of my track was either burning or covered in a billowing rainbow of thick smoke. I dont think my fusillade caused any enemy casualties, but it bought us a few precious minutes of time until Captain Menzell rode up with the rest of G Troop.
When the battle ended, 51 enemy bodies and dozens of blood trails were found scattered in the battle area. Figuring we wounded two NVA for each one killed, we inflicted at least 150 enemy casualties.
But my platoon paid a steep price, suffering two KIA and seven WIA. My Blackhorse recon platoon, which had 44 men only a few weeks earlier, was now down to 22 men. Sometimes, even 23 years later, I can still hear the sounds and smell the rancid odors of that deadly battle.
For their actions on May 1st 70 with 3rd Platoon, G Troop, the
Silver Star was awarded posthumously to Doc Paul Marion Dailey and Keith
Arneson. SP4 Dillon received the Bronze Star for Valor.
An Unforgettable Experience By Larry Barnthouse It was a truly unforgettable experience. Wed left Travis Air Force Base about 10:00p.m. and had been en route for more than 20 hours, including refueling stops in Alaska and Japan. There were about 130 of us on the plane. It had been pretty noisy at first, but by the time we crossed over the Philippines, the only sounds you could hear were whispers and nervous coughs. It was morning, somewhere over the South China Sea. Suddenly everyone on the right side of the plane turned absolutely silent and started staring out the window. When I got a chance, I crossed over to the other side to take a look. There it was, Vietnam. I hadnt expected it to be that beautiful. Mountains, covered with thick green forest, came all the way down to the sea. The shoreline was dotted with islands, also covered with forest. From 33,000 feet, there was no sign of human presence.
We flew along the coast for probably 20 minutes or so, although it seemed like hours, and then turned inland. By this time we were lower and I could see what looked like tiny silver birds flying in between the mountains below us. A few minutes later they were clearly recognizable aircraft: C-130s and below them, various sizes and shapes of helicopters flying in all directions.
As we continued our long slow descent toward Bien Hoa, the mountains were replaced by rice paddies dotted with diamonds. The diamonds grew steadily larger and rounder and I soon realized they were really shell craters filled with water. Shell craters everywhere! By the time we turned to make our final approach, we were flying over country that looked a lot like the surface of the moon (only greener). We came in over the Dong Nai River and landed.
Along with 129 other replacement troops, I was herded off the plane and onto a bus to the transit barracks at Long Binh. Two days later I was told I had been assigned to the 541st Military Intelligence Detachment, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, what ever that was. A few hours later, I was in Di An and six weeks after that I was in Cambodia with HHT, 2/11.
I was on loan to the Phoenix Program in Phu Cuong. After the 2nd Squadron stood down in July, there hadnt been much work for me to do out in the field. My job now was to interrogate prisoners brought in by the South Vietnamese National Police. Some were hard core VC, some were draftees from Hanoi, most were peasants whod just been in the wrong place and the wrong time. It was the week before Christmas for whatever that was worth. Snuol, Loc Ninh, Binh My, Ham Tan and now Phu Cuong. The good, the bad and the ugly. Id seen it all. My ass was still in one piece and if my luck held, Id be back in the World in two more months.
The phone rang. I heard Captain Keeler yell, Barnthouse! Its for you!. The 541st MID clerk (a new guy, I hadnt even learned his name yet) was on the other end of the line. I heard him say, Hey Barnthouse! You got a drop! Youre going to be out of here in 13 days you lucky bastard! Barnthouse? Are you still there?. For the first and only time in my life I was unable to speak. Eventually I was able to make a grunting sound to let him know I had heard him. On New Years Eve I called my parents from the Philadelphia airport and told them Id be in Cincinnati in an hour.
Ive been away from the war for 24 years now but barely a day goes by when I
dont think about that time. Sometimes the war seems so distant that it must have
happened to somebody else, but often it seems more real than what happened last month or
last week. So wherever you are, Rick Miller, Frank Walker, David Drake, Chuck Wheeler,
Eddie Stec, Sgt. Bao and all the others whose names have slipped away but whose faces
remain, you are part of me that can never be taken away. I will never forget you and will
always be proud to have known, lived and served with you. I hope you remember me the same
RelectionsBy Herbert Gillock I was cleaning out my billfold the other day when I came across one half of a badly worn Vietnamese bill. My mind began to drift back in time, to many years ago. It was a hot summer night in Xuan Loc Vietnam 1966. I guess it was a night like most other nights in Vietnam. We were sitting on the ground drinking Buds and throwing the cans in an oil drum and reminiscing about the good times to come.
My best friend Baker took a Vietnamese bill out of his pocket and tore it in half. He said, Here Herb, you take half and Ill keep the other. When we get back to the states, well match them up and celebrate.
We were getting to move out early the next morning and already mounted on our track. The Lieutenant came over and told me to take the 1-8 vehicle and let Sgt. Coy Vaughns take my squad for the day. What started out to be a routine mission became a nightmare. Death was only moments away. A mine buried in the road claimed the life of my best friend Baker and Sgt. Vaughns lost his right leg. We would never celebrate that reunion in the states.
Time after time I have taken this bill out of my pocket and I have
always wondered, what happened to the other half? To this day, I still carry my half of
Camouflage Pants By David R. Berger
It was just a couple of years ago when I met him. I just pulled up to a discount food store on my way to work on midnight shift. Work starting time was just a couple of hours away.
I saw him get out of his car. He looked a lot like Fidel Castro. He had a beard, dark hair, a rather husky sized build and dressed in Desert Storm camouflage pants. It was those camouflage pants that first attracted my attention.
So many people including women wear camouflage clothing anymore. I have never been able to understand what kind of fashion statement they are trying to make. Most of them have never been in the service nor would serve unless they were absolutely forced to serve. No matter how calm I am, there is always a little ire that rises within me when I see fashion camouflage being worn.
Somehow I couldnt relax from looking at him as I entered the food store. I guess my judging heart had been hardened. I noticed while shoving a food cart, he walked with a cane and was about my age. He wore a cap with a number of hat tacks. As I passed him I noticed a miniature CMB (Combat Medical Badge) on his hat. I kept on walking even though I felt a great urge to stop.
You have to understand a CMB is my most prized medal. Oh, I screwed up a number of times but the desire to be a good medic caused me to rise above the fear at times which I would normally have conquered.
At times my mind and intellect had been taxed to the utmost. I had to do my best. As a combat medic, I probably experienced more dedication for a cause than I ever hoped for. Somehow, a CMB means to me I did my very best and passed.
Halfway down the aisle, some unseen force stopped me and I turned around and walked to camouflage pants and straight forth asked, Were you a medic in Nam?.
He was surprised and finally responded with a, Yea.
I explained that I had been a medic in Vietnam and noticed the miniature CMB. We shook hands and immediately were friends. We did the usual small talk. We then told what units we served with. When I told him I served with the 11th Armored Cav, he responded with, You guys were really bad.
Being somewhat surprised, I said something like, We were?. He went on to explain that his unit got ambushed in very heavy brush. A large number of them were wounded. No matter what they didartillery, gunships or bombsthey couldnt bust up the ambush. The enemy was right on top of them. Every time they tried something, they would just lose more men. Toward the end of the day they knew they were goners.
It was about that time that they heard a lot of thrashing brush and whining and growling engines and some armor unit known as the Blackhorse was able to make it to them. He told how the enemy didnt even put up a fightjust fled.
I must admit I was somewhat overwhelmed. After finding out his year (1970), I had to tell him I served a couple of years before. Then jokingly I said it was still nice to know the guys after me were still bad.
We laughed and talked and finally realized time was slipping away. I had to leave. I remember walking down the aisle and called back, Ill see you around. He answered, Ill see you brother..
That was almost a couple of years ago and I have never seen him since. I have looked forward to seeing him again. I regard him as a friend and always thought I would like to know him better.
I was totally amazed at the respect he had for the Blackhorse Regiment. Being in his place, I might feel the same way. He felt the Cav must have had it together the way the VC fled. The Cong wanted no part of the Cav.
I know I pre-judged the man. He is the type of person that could wear camouflage with a sport coat as far as Im concerned.
I still have to admit though, I dont like fashion camouflage.
A Real Jam By Charles L. Gross
The third mine of four I hit while in Vietnam happened in the middle of the jungle. We were traveling in twin columns in pretty heavy vegetation. We would fire a canister round from our 152mm main gun to clear the way.
I was reading a paperback book, The Stewardess as I drove because of the stop and go type of driving. When the track in front of me would move, I would also pull up keeping a safe interval.
I heard the engine on the tank in front of me rev up so I got on the accelerator and immediately a tremendous explosion bounced and pitched the track. I was kind of thrown around and upward and hit my shoulder on the gun tube. The main gun ammunition broke loose and crashed against my sides and back.
Everything went black for me for a short time. I couldnt see then blurred vision and ringing in my ears. My teeth felt like they had all moved over one space and just a numb feeling all over.
I wore a flak jacket and usually no shirt. Often I would sit on a spare flak jacket and have sand bags on the floor to protect myself from shrapnel. I began to regain my senses and jumped up checking myself over for any shrapnel or injury. About this time the dust was beginning to settle out of the air and my tank commander jumped down from behind his 50 cal and grabbed a hold of me and told me to sit down.
About then I felt something wet on my arm and leg. I looked down and my whole right arm was covered with red and it was dripping onto my pants. It had little white things in it. I got worried and felt sick. I was never too fond of the sight of blood, especially when it was mine.
I started to get dizzy and kind of fell back against the gun tube. I saw Doc, our medic, jumping off the APC with his black bag sprinting my way. My Commanding Officer was on the horn calling for a dust off chopper to get me out of there.
I got a little braver as time went on. I finally put my finger on my arm to feel it ... I threw my head back and just started screaming and laughing at the same time! Some said, Oh God, I think hes going into shock!. I was rolling now in hysterics. They said, Hes loosing it. I said, Im okay, Im okay and they said, Yes, youll be okay. Well patch you up.
Well, you have to know me and you have to understand. I lived on peanut butter and jelly while I was in Vietnam. It always tasted good to me and I could keep it nearby. On the last stand down, I had gone to the PX and bought a big jar of peanut butter and a large jar of red raspberry jam.
The peanut butter, jam and crackers were always lying on the main gun rounds beside me in the drivers compartment. The concussion of the mine exploded the glass jar of red raspberry jam and it went all over me. The red stuff was the jam and not blood. The little white things were the seeds from the jam.
Other than being severely stoved up and a small cut on my elbow from the glass, I was really okay.
I took a lot of kidding about that jam but was really glad it turned out as it had.