Blackhorse Hoofbeats

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Don Snedeker
11th ACVVC Historian


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Blackhorse Hoofbeats

By: Don Snedeker

2nd Quarter, 2024

Blackhorse Troopers: George Smith Patton grew up in a soldier’s family, the son of a great Cavalryman. He served in two wars and with the 11th Cav twice. He knew something about soldiers in general and Blackhorse Troopers in particular. Looking back on a career that spanned three-plus decades, he concluded: “The soldier in Vietnam, for the record, and I’ve said this a thousand times, both publicly and privately, the soldier in Vietnam was the best soldier that I have ever seen, in peacetime and wartime, in 34 years of continuous service.”

Contrary to the popular notion at the time, most of those who became Troopers in the 11th Cav in Vietnam were volunteers, not draftees. While some joined the Army in order to pick their duty station or specialty (at that time, if you enlisted in the Army for three years, you were guaranteed either training in the branch you requested or your first duty assignment; if you were drafted, that was not the case). Others were motivated by patriotism, a need to get away from home, trouble with the law, and a wide variety of other reasons. Daryl Carlson (I Troop, 1969-70), for example, signed up with Uncle Sam because he had “too many traffic tickets”.

For Darrell Carey, Sr. (M Company, 1967-68), it was John F. Kennedy’s call to action. “The United States always looked after other people’s rights, and that’s what I felt I needed to do.” G Troop’s Walter Weyher grew up in rural Michigan. He joined the 11th Cav in August 1967. He was almost 26 years old when drafted, quite a bit older that most of his fellow draftees. He said that for country boys like him, “it was a disgrace if you didn’t go” into the Service. Bryant Nelson (HOW Battery, 1/11, 1969-70), says” “My father-in-law…[who] served as a fighter pilot for the famous Flying Tigers in China and Burma … without saying a word, had strong influence on me to pick up the responsibility to serve my country and help in whatever way I could in a war I believed help free the Vietnamese from the yoke of Communism.”

The Terry brothers from Monroe, LA – Gary, Pete, and Wesley – all volunteered for the Army when they came of age. All three served in the Blackhorse in Vietnam. Wesley joined A Troop in 1967 (he was wounded and medevaced in January 1969). Gary was assigned to HHT, Regiment in early 1969. Younger brother Pete came to K Troop at the end of the year. They knew about the Army policy to not assign brothers to the same unit; they weren’t about to let a policy stand in their way. Gary recalls:

While Wesley was home on convalescence leave and I was home on leave going to Vietnam he told me some stories about the 11th Cav, I remember the last thing he told me before I boarded the plane was that I didn’t need to go to the 11th but as luck would have it I was the only one at the 90th Repo [90th Replacement Detachment] to get assigned to them that day … I knew about the no brothers policy before Pete came over but decided if he really wanted to come then I would do what I could to get him assigned with me and it worked out that we were able to do it with some help from the personnel officer of the regiment.

Most of these young men were in their teens or early twenties. They were still figuring out what they wanted to be in life. They were, in many cases, away from home for the first time, thrust into the Big Green Machine with a bunch of other guys. David Drake (541st Military Intelligence Detachment, 1970-71) was drafted out of law school in 1969. He recalls that his basic training company at Ft. Bragg, NC, “was about equally split among blacks from inner city Detroit; whites from the mountains of Western NC; and college graduates like me. It was an interesting mix.”

Your bunkmates in basic were guys who didn’t necessarily look, talk, or think like you did (the author’s first commander in the Army was from Roundup, Montana; until he joined the Army in 1967, he had never seen an African-American live in person before). You were subjected to humiliation, torment, and stress like never before in your life – and that was just on the first day. Somehow, you made it through basic and advanced individual training and home leave before arriving in Vietnam. Get off the plane, get on the bus, get off the bus, get into formation, do this, do that … Man, what have I gotten myself into?

And then, finally, the voice on the loudspeaker announces your winning lottery number. Joseph Wetmore (HHT, 3/11 and K Troop, 1967-68) recalls that moment. “Finally I heard my name called along with several others and whoever was doing the announcing said ‘You guys are going to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Blackhorse’. He said this with enthusiasm, leading us to believe we’d lucked out. We didn’t even know what an 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was.”

Like every other unit in the United States Army in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was a mix of volunteers and draftees. The Blackhorse Troopers who went to Vietnam were young (and some not so young) men, sons of fathers who had lived through the depression and survived World War II. They were part 50s generation and part 60s generation – part Ricky Nelson and part Jimmie Hendrix. They were not, as G Troop’s Top Sergeant Jim Embrey (1966-67) admitted, “perfect soldiers”. Some “delighted in putting grey hair on their First Sergeant’s noggin.” They flew kites in a war zone, got the pet monkey drunk on beer, and held a memorial service when a VC rocket demolished the crapper. The airborne had its Band of Brothers; Top Embrey had his “Special Band of Troopers.”

Much was (and still is) made in the media and Hollywood of the long-haired, pot-smoking, ill-disciplined hippies in uniform that served in Vietnam. True, there were some of these stereotypical GIs who joined the Blackhorse, but they were far outnumbered by young Americans who either raised their hands as volunteers or were drafted and didn’t run away to Canada. Because they felt it was the right thing to do, they served their country under some pretty awful circumstances.

George Kinback, a pilot in Air Cavalry Troop in 1966-67, says such Hollywood stereotypical derelicts were “not in my Army … All of the enlisted men I worked with in Vietnam were conscientious, knowledgeable, hardworking, sober and, importantly, well disciplined and cheerfully obedient.” Jack Nielsen, 1/11 commander for much of 1968, agreed. “Enlisted men in general were outstanding. I think they were a better soldier than we had in World War II or Korea. They required little or no motivation, just direction and teaching.”

But those were the early days. Everyone admits that the Army that went to war in 1966 was a different one than the Army that went into Cambodia four years later. Arnold Gaylor, the D Company commander in 1970, summed up what many Blackhorse leaders experienced with members of the 60s Generation. When asked how he would characterize the Troopers who had served under his command, he replied:

With one word … Outstanding! I haven’t been in too long, this is my 7th year active. The quality and caliber of the people that work for me in this unit far exceeds that of any unit I have ever had. The youngsters we have coming in today may not be professional in the sense that they have different out-looks and value system than what I have; like wearing their hair exactly the way I may want it; but these people are over here to do a job, most of them for two years, and they do the best job for 2 years they possibly can. I think we must recognize the fact that they are better educated, have a broader outlook on life, they have a firmer grasp on what the world situation actually is and they are different from the troops we are normally used to working with.

Arnold’s contemporary over in L Troop, Ralph ‘Captain Midnight’ Miles (1970-71), felt similarly. “I have had every race, creed, and color in my troop, and yet when the time came to do the job it was done perfectly. They do the job not mainly because they’re showing their allegiance to America, but rather to the guy next to them who’s in just as deep as they are.” Doc Bahnsen, (Air Cav Troop and 1st Squadron, 1968-69), recalls, with great affection, his Troopers. “I would say most of my track and tank commanders have been Specialists 4 or Privates First Class. They turn over so fast that we do not even get to make them acting sergeants … What they lacked in experience and knowledge they made up in enthusiasm and the ability to get out and get the job done.”

Albert Charles was in B Troop in 1968-69. He had been trained by NCOs who earned their stripes in World War II and Korea. His barrel chest and stern demeanor might give one the impression that he was ‘old school’; follow my orders because I’m big and mean enough to make you do so. But behind that gruff exterior was a thoughtful leader, a Blackhorse NCO with a keen eye for talent amongst the 60s Generation of “kids [who] were soft – too much money, too much fun ‘never make [it] in the Army’ types.” This veteran sergeant concluded: “He is proving every day in Vietnam, and elsewhere, that he is not what we thought he would be. We are finding that he is easy to motivate, that he is easy to train, and that he can be trusted … We see in him the qualities that our Army needs.”

Air Cav Troop’s Sam Adams (1966-70) was one of those Troopers. He joined the 11th Cav at Ft. Meade, not much different from the several thousand others who brought the Regiment up to wartime strength. But Sam had something that none of the others did – longevity. Because, you see, Sam Adams did four back-to-back-to-back tours with the Blackhorse. When he finally returned to The World, he had 48 months continuous wartime service in Vietnam and Cambodia. In that time, he had served as an ARP, a door gunner, a mechanic, and as a crew chief. When he departed in November 1970, he was the platoon sergeant of the Lift Platoon. Why did he stick around for so long? He told a 17th Public Information Detachment reporter in July 1970: “I thought I probably would be returning [to Vietnam] anyway, and the 11th Cav was a good outfit, doing a good job, so I thought I’d stick with it”. What finally convinced him to go back to the World? The girl back home said yes when he asked her to marry him.

Different individuals had different reactions when they were assigned to the 11th Cav, but most appreciated the fact that they weren’t jungle-boot-mobile grunts. New York-born and airborne-qualified infantryman Alroys Ortiz (C Troop, 1968-69) volunteered to join the Blackhorse after serving in an infantry unit because he was “tired of walking and decided to do some riding for a change.” Sheridan driver Frank Phillippe (F Troop, 1971-72) expressed a similar opinion: “Being in the jungle may not be the best location in Vietnam, but being with the Armored Cav sure beats walking through the dense vegetation.”

Gunner Wagner (D Company, 1966-67) came to be a Blackhorse Trooper in a rather unique way. As a “recently busted down PFC”, he was leaving Korea and had orders for the 9th Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, KS.

My SGM in Korea told me in Korea in Feb. ’66 [that the 11th CAV was headed for Vietnam]. That’s why I reported to Fort Meade instead of Riley where I was supposed to go! The God awful 9ID was there getting ready to go too. I wanted no part of another infantry division, with only 27 tanks at the time. The 3-5 Cav was at 120% strength so I would have been an earth pig (infantry)! To this day I think that SGM in Korea called the First Squadron SGM. Why else would he tell me to go only there? Gotta love the old soldiers who ‘take care of the troops’!

And members of the Regiment weren’t the only ones to recognize just how good the Blackhorse Troopers were. Bob Alexander, who served in the 1st Air Cav Division (1969-70) wrote a letter to the 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia. He wrote: “You Dudes may be NUTS, but you were some of the finest troopers I ever hope to meet!”

Edmund Ellsworth (A Troop, 1966-68) – who extended his tour in Vietnam twice as a recon troop first sergeant – has the ultimate word on his Blackhorse Troopers, saying that the “men are knowledgeable, resourceful, and brave and are the best that he has encountered in the Army.”



[1] Despite the lack of memory of the media, the young American men who went to war in South Vietnam in the 1960s were not dramatically different from their predecessors who went to war in the Philippines just after the turn of the century. In an October 1901 article written about the discipline issues associated with the Troopers of the Eleventh United States Cavalry, then in training at Ft. Myer, Virginia, in preparation for shipping out to the Philippines, the Washington Times reported that six Troopers had been court-martialed: two for larceny, two for being AWOL, one for disciplinary violations, and one for drunkenness. Lima Troop’s Private Joseph Nammock, who was absent from duty for the seventh time, was sentenced to six months’ hard labor and a dishonorable discharge. Not to be outdone, Private Patrick McCarty, also of Lima Troop, was dishonorably discharged after three months of hard labor for nine instances of missing reveille and drunk in quarters.


[2] Gunner took his mentor’s take-care-of-the-troops-philosophy to heart. Almost five decades later, a retired MSG himself then living in the Philippines, he was unable to attend the upcoming 2014 Blackhorse Association (BHA) reunion in Colorado Springs. His health was failing: “Legs are not working, lungs at 66 percent, don’t hardly go out anymore”, he wrote. But he was still looking out for the members of his crew: “Jimmy Harris ‘pony’ from my crew in Delta Co. will be there, take care of him?”, he asked Glen Snodgrass, the BHA President. Gunner died not long after that.

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