I was 5 when my Dad came back from Vietnam. My Dad was a hard and tough sargent in the US Army. Discipline was hard and swift, as my brothers will agree. As I grew older I realized there was something different about dad. My brothers will attest that he returned different from Vietnam. We all noticed that he would get upset at war movies, yet he did not shed a tear, he choked them back. Almost as if he was wrestling with those feelings, his face would twist and turn and lips would turn side ways and every so often he'd let out a grunt because the pressure became to much. Today, as my brothers and I think back it was almost comical to think about, yet as it was happening it was one of the most painful things to watch!
If you wanted to see my dad real angry all you had to do was say something bad about the military. My brother Robert recalled a moment when our brother Mike made a smart ass remark about Vietnam: "Let me tell you it wasn't pretty. I had to hold my Dad back and my Mom had to get my brother out of the house. I'm still pissed at my brother because I took the brunt of what was supposed to go to him, but that's another story." As my brothers and I have looked back and compared stories our Dad was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A few years ago, before dad passed away I wrote an article for my churches newsletter entitled, "Bouncing Betties," which were land mines that were used in Vietnam. The story was basically about a man who sacrificed himself for a friend. Little did I know that I would receive the following email from my dad. Apparently it conjured up all the feelings that dad had stuffed down inside of himself and probably only on of the many violent and insane things he went through.
When my dad would visit DC we would visit the Vietnam Memorial and dad would spend, what seemed like, hours combing the names on the wall. One day he found a name and took the pieces of paper that they have available and ran the led back and forth across the paper until the name appeared on it. It was the first time I can recollect my dad crying it seemd ike forever but he took the sheet folded it up and put it in his pocket. Till this day... I don’t know who it was that dad had found, I can only hope it was the young marine in the following story.
My brothers and I hope you will read this and appreciate what our men and women of the military go through when they are in a war zone. George H. W. Bush stated he always thinks about the men that died in his squadron, not a day goes by when he doesn't think about them. I believe my Dad and countless other Dads, Uncles, and now Moms and Aunts went and are going through the day thinking about those that died around them.
My father signed up for the Army in 1954 as a 24 year old combat Engineer/ Demolition Specialist. After a tour in Germany he was talked into becoming the company clerk, like Radar O’Reilly on the hit TV show M.A.S.H. Since he was one of the few that could type he moved up the non commissioned officer ranks quickly. As promotions go in the military so do the assignments and on Christmas Eve 1971, he reported for duty at Travis AFB in California where he would soon be shipped to Vietnam. He said he was not worried because he would be working at the assistance advisory headquarters in Saigon. The turnover of the country was happening at that time and US combat troops were leaving Vietnam and being replaced by South Vietnamese Units. He was “assured” he would not get an assignment in the war zone! Upon arriving he was assigned frontline advisory duty but still was not real worried because most advisory teams had an administrative supervisor… right? So much for supposing! We’ll leave the rest of this story in his words...
When I asked the question to the personnel officer and he said "No Sarge you are assigned in your Combat Engineer secondary MOS" Which all top NCO's are required to have a combat secondary skill. This still didn't seem to bad since I knew all advisors previously had to learn to speak Vietnamese before being assigned to a team.
My first clue that I was in trouble was when we went by a 2 1/2 ton truck to An Loc the next day and found that the supposedly 30 or so man advisory team consisted of an Airborne Ranger Captain, Airborne Ranger Sgt. Major (that had been in Vietnam four times), myself and three Marine Corps Lance Corporals, 3 Army Sp4's and a private. I was quite in shock so to speak until the Sgt. Major put me at ease by asking me if I still could set off a C-4 demolition charge, which I replied, “You never forget that.” He said that all the other squad tactics will come back to me in a hurry. The Captain put me in charge of the quartermaster second lieutenant and the private to teach them how to do daily reports at the home base, which I might add they became pretty proficient at.
We were detailed to advise a South Vietnamese Infantry Company and as I recall they had four platoons. The Captain went with his Vietnamese counterpart and the first platoon; the Sgt. Major with the 2nd platoon; and myself and the three marines plus the the two Army E-4s were generally in the the third platoon (right in the middle) of the platoon. The Sgt. Major called us the "sucker" platoon, since we normally were always out in the open by ourselves to draw fire from the enemy and the three other were about 100 yards away on each side of us. As soon as we were attacked, normally by a very small V.C. or North Vietnamese Unit, we would lay a field of fire into them until the three other platoons closed in on each side.
The worst experience I ever had in my life happened a couple of months before the overrun of An Loc and my R&R or 7&7 as they called it. We were in a new area that we hadn't been before and some new enemy troop movement had been seen in that area. We hit a big open area with a rice field in the middle and the rest was swampy like with tall grass. As usual we went right down the middle of it like we had good sense; 1st & 2nd platoon went around the tree line on the left of us and the 4th platoon in the tree line on the right of us. The Sgt. Major was trying to tell me something on the radio and there was a lot of interference and I couldn't understand him. I dropped my cigar that I always chewed on in the rice paddy and bent over to pick it up when I heard the mortar thump and an incoming round coming! About that same time my little Marine knocked me down and the explosion came and landed right on top of me. The breath was knocked out of me and I was sputtering water from the rice paddy and blood was streaming down my forehead and face. I thought to myself I guess this is what it is like to get killed in combat. But as I was getting my breathe back and feeling better, I threw the Marine off my back and saw that the explosion had killed him instantly. We didn't have time to think about him too much since it looked like half the enemy army was charging into the rice fields to do us in, we had our hands full. We were enraged and quite a battle ensued even after the other three platoons engaged also. We drove back quite a large North Vietnamese regular battalion, and I don't remember the North Vietnamese body count, along with six of our South Vietnamese soldiers and "my little Marine" .
I was very upset over the loss of one of my young men that I, A Lifer, was to to help keep from harm. He was only 19 and since that time I have completely blocked his name. All I can remember is the young black man from Chicago, that called me "Old Sarge" I have questioned the Lord many times as to why he spared me and not this young black marine. Evidently God had other things planned for me. One day I will remember his name and if not I know I will see him in Heaven
I think on that day at the wall dads memory came back to him... if not... today, my Dad and that young Marine are enjoying themselves. Thanks Dad and to the young Marine!
Story written by Steve and Robert Holt with an excerpt from Old Sarge!