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The Metamorphosis of Post-Second World War Warfare

On 3 September 1967 I was being briefed by a fellow artillery officer in Charlie Battery's
supply roomone of the 900 lightweight prefabricated wooden buildings that made up
the Fourth Division's (Camp Enari [Dragon Mountain]) base camp at Pleiku, Vietnam
in the Central Highlandsgetting ready to be inserted as an artillery forward observer
(1193) into where the highest incidence of malaria in Vietnam devastated both civilians
and US Army military personnel.
The first lieutenant was short. Three days to go. Then DEROS (Date Eligible for
Return from Overseas)! The Ivy Man had been grazed at his skull by a NVA (North
Vietnamese Army) bullet, and was anxious to receive his Purple Heart. He was ecstatic.
He oozed with a euphoric relief completely forgetting that the first thirty days and the
last thirty days were the most precarious for Vietnam soldiers. The first thirty because
one was totally disoriented; the last thirty because a soldier, like this lieutenant, became
madcap thinking the entire 366-day tour was at its long-awaited ending.
He checked me out.
Ruck sack...entrenching tool...poncho...poncho liner...air
mattress...rifle (M-16)...bandolier for ammunition magazines...helmet...helmet
camouflage cover with band...four canteens...two ammo pouches...bayonet...shaving
kit...toothbrush...toothpaste...soap...extra pair of fatigues...jungle boots...insect
repellent...first-aid packet...heating tabs for cooking...mosquito net....
When he called me stupid because I did not understand that SS signified Silver
Star, the award he had been written up for, I quickly cooled to him. After all, I was a
lieutenant greenhorn. In a few days I, too, would be promoted to first lieutenant.
When I readied myself for my Jeep trip to the Huey heliport, he asked me how many
first-aid packets I had. I responded one. He tossed me a second and contemptuously
said: Take another one. A bullet that goes in can come out, greenhorn! Just what I
needed to hear on one of the most dreadful, overriddenly anxious days of my life.
On my way to the Snowflake Division's make-do airport, I reminisced thinking of my
two friends, Jim Kindla and Tom Willis, with whom I chummed during our Officer
Basic Course at the United States Army Artillery & Missile School from which we had
together graduated in November 1966. And then there was Colonel Thomas, my
battalion commander at the United States Army Training Center (Little John, Honest
John, Sergeant and Pershing [rockets and missiles]) who lived on the same street in Fort
Sill where my BOQ (Bachelor Officers' Quarters) was located and who invited me to
dine with his family on various occasions. Colonel Thomas, a West Pointer, gave me
invaluable insights into the stresses and strains the United States Army was suffering in
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the 1960s. I have fond memories of him even today.


No deep friendships in Vietnam. I took the hint. My personal experience was
highlighted by the deaths of about forty enlisted men and officers. One time I was
attending a battalion briefing in a jungle TOC (Tactical Operations Center) after which a
major, captain and a lieutenant, whom I knew personally, all died when their helicopter
collided with an O-2 observation aircraft fifteen minutes after our meeting terminated.
When I once took the place of a killed-in-action fellow lieutenant, I had to collect his
belongings, clear out his porno magazines, and forward his possessions back to his
family in the States. Then, I slept in his bunk.
I ducked the rotating helicopter blades, sat down, and latched my seatbelt. Off we
went. This the day I had dreaded most since receiving my orders from the Pentagon, on
8 May 1967, to go to Vietnam. The flight to my unit in the environs of the LaotianCambodian borders was filled with absolutely stunning views of green jungles and
rolling mountains some of which I would eventually climb in torrid heat during violent
monsoon rains. No roads. Nothing but verdant Nature. The Huey pilots finally
spotted puffs of violet vapors that had been set off by a smoke grenade to help the
warrant officers accurately land their chopper.
My dear reader, before I continue with this introductory narration, I must advise you that what you are
about to learn might cause you an enormous stress that can affect your well-being. Particularly, if you
suffer cardio-circulatory ailments or are a psychiatric patient, you must consult with your physician for
him or her to determine whether or not the following reading can be exceptionally traumatic for you.
Whether you are a Vietnam veteran or not, and especially if you view the Vietnam War as
something that enhanced the international status of the United States, that you have held such a
position now for decades, you can be violently impacted by what you are about to scrutinize. I cannot be
responsible for any harm you might incur.
The Huey floated about three feet off the ground. I jumped down. Then the two
door-gunners tossed out mail bags, bags with books, magazines and newspapers,
thermoses of hot chow for the troops, and different other supplies. I walked on
looking to report to the infantry company commander and meet the forward observer I
had been sent to replace along with my recon sergeant and PRC-9 receiver/transmitter
operator. As I approached the company's location, I could see soldiers were digging in
for the night by forming a perimeter with foxholes to protect them in case of an attack.
When I entered the area, one grunt (infantryman), shirtless and with an entrenching tool
in his hands, looked up at me and cried out: What's your name, lieutenant? Here in
the boonies we're all on a first-name basis! I smiled and walked on. When I reached
the CC's (company commander's) hootch, I found an infantry first lieutenant, not
captain in command, and he, with a southern drawl, shook my hand and asked me if I
wanted some hot peppers he had recently received from Louisiana. I took two. Then
he presented me to the FO (forward observer) I was to succeed. It was Randy! A
fellow classmate of mine at Fort Sill! I was pleased to see him, but he was so anxious to
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have me take over, he was in no mood to think back to our Oklahoman days together.
He just wanted to fill me in as best he could. The following morning he would be out
of the boonies and on to a staff position. He presented me to Ed, my recon sergeant
who later would be killed in the Battle of Dak To, and Paul, the PRC-9 operator who
would be seriously wounded there. We bantered a bit and then I was assigned to the
place where I was to set up, with Paul, our hootch which consisted of two ponchos
snapped together and braced by dividing poles we carried on our backs.
About an hour or so after my arrival, an explosion, at about 200 meters from us, shook
the whole company into a panic. The infantry CC immediately recoiled, without
thinking for a moment, with orders to fire at will, and all hell broke loose with a
continuing barrage of M-16s, M-79 grenade launchers, M-60 machine guns and hand
grenades that deafened the scene and caused smoke to fill the air with the odour of
spent projectiles. Soldiers were shooting at trees and bushes. None of us saw even one
enemy soldier. The CC screamed to Randy and ordered him to call for our 105mm
artillery support. Then the CC radioed for helicopter gunship support. I was scared as
anyone else there. Confusion and impulsiveness ruled the moments before a cease fire
was called. One grunt was so terrified, he lay on the ground in the fetal position, with
his hands clutching his rosary beads. His M-16 had been discarded a good meter from
his position. I was dumbfounded.
I looked to register Randy's reaction. He was laughing! Over the noise, I asked him
what was going on. He told me the exploding round was one of ours! It was a 155mm
projectile that another battery near our position had obviously mistakenly fired. While
the CC was thinking Randy was requesting a fire mission, Randy actually was informing
our battery commander to order the 155mm battery commander to cease fire!
While I dozed off to sleep on a gray air mattress that night in my hootch, I repeated to
myself, over and over again, What did I do to deserve this? This, my very first day on
the Vietnam battlefield!
Remember I just suggested that you consult your physician if necessary? Well, wait until you read what
will now follow!
Let us begin with the artillery. 30%-40% of the projectiles fired in Vietnam did not
explode. Defective rounds were caused by greedy mass production and abnormal
meteorological conditions. 70% of the deaths and wounded in Vietnam were caused by
mines. 90% of the mines were United States ordnance that had been captured by the
Vietnamese...Almost 20,000,000 gallons of dioxin was sprayed on an estimated 20% of
Vietnam's agricultural territories, and it is reckoned that 1,000,000 Vietnamese have
been deformed by that chemical that has sunk into the soil of the country
contaminating food sources and Vietnamese products made from bamboo and other
natural resources...An artillery battalion executive officer, a major from the south of the
United States, told me flat out that if I wanted to make a career of the Army I must
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stop associating with those nigger privates...African-Americans in base camp were


constantly threatened with transfer to the battlefield if they misbehaved...Major General
Peers, commandant of the Fourth Division, ordered the lock-up of all weapons in
Camp Enari because so many drunken soldiers were shooting themselves and
others...The Roman Catholic division chaplain, an Irish-Catholic full bird colonel,
habitually raided enlisted men's barracks tearing down Playboy centerfolds wherever he
could find them...I served in an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) as an FO, and when
I arrived I was greeted with rebel flags, Stars and Bars, that had been hoisted on three of
the APCs' antennas. I was joshed by southern soldiers who called me Yankee. One
of them had a necklace with the ears of Vietnamese people he had zeroed. Another
showed me pictures, his friends in Nam had sent him, with an infantryman holding
up, in each hand, the severed heads of two dead Vietnamese soldiersfor laughs...I
served as Oran K Henderson's artillery brigade liaison officer (Americal Division) after
the My Lai massacre. He was an ambitious hard-nosed lout, always drunk and
depressed. He was later court-martialed for covering up the My Lai massacre...Some
Afro-Americans told me they had been given a choice by The Judge: Where do you
want to go, nigger? Jail or Vietnam?...I was reprimanded because when I wrote up
Awards & Decorations, I was not lenient enough corroborating the events surrounding
a soldier's so-called bravery...The Air Force's B-52s carpet bombed the Vietnamese
killing an estimated 3,000,000 soldiers and civilians. The US Army was not the
protagonist in the Vietnam War...One supply sergeant told me we were in Vietnam
for the oil reserves in the South China Sea...Another supply sergeant told me we were in
Vietnam to keep protesting niggers out of the United States...Still another sergeant
told me that we needed a war to spend ourselves out of the 1962 recession...On the
Continental airline's plane that took me from Travis Air Force base to Tan Son Nhut
International Airport outside of Saigon, I sat next to a Trappist monk who told me he
had requested a year's leave of absence to go to Vietnam to help the boys. He sat at
the window, and when we stopped in Guam for a refueling, he fanned crosses blessing
the numerous B-52s that were parked next to the runway we were landing on...I had so
much time on my hands while I was in Vietnam for a year, I read seventy-two
books...When an 18-year-old grunt (infantryman) asked me furiously, with tears in his
eyes, why Jacqueline Kennedy was on vacation in Anghor Wat, Cambodia while we were
near the Cambodia border in a combat zone, I wrote a letter to the President of the
United States asking him Why. Before mailing the letter, I showed it to my Fourth
Division artillery commander, Colonel McAllister, who told me to forget about making
the Army a career...Three weeks before my DEROS, I was informed by my battalion
executive officer that if I reupped for another year, I would automatically be promoted
to captain...I politely refused...Would you believe that towards the end of the Vietnam
War grunts negotiated with their company commanders to determine where they
wanted to march that day! They did. And if the captain refused, a hand grenade might
have been rolled into his hootch at night (fragging)... ad infinitum.
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OBSERVATION ONE
You did not have to be a Carl von Clausewitz or a Sun Tzu to have realized that
something was rotten in Denmark regards the entire Vietnam debacle. But who, in his
or her right mind, would think that a conglomeration of uneducated juvenile
delinquents, alcoholics, drug addicts, racists from the South of the United States living
out their American Civil War (1861-65) illusions, violently infuriated African-Americans,
hippies, an artillery lieutenant who inscribed The Hippie Lieutenant on his helmet
camouflage cover shortly before he would be ordered to remove it and who held a
degree in Philosophy, could carry through the maddening belief that the American
armed forces might be adequate to the task of constituting a competently nimble
organization concocted to confront the security obligations for the real estate that the
United States had inherited at the end of World War II?
Can you guess who? John F Kennedy-appointed Secretary of Defense (1961-68)
Robert Strange (sic) McNamara (1916-2009)that's who! This whiz kid, president of
the Ford (Faulty parts? Ford's got heart!) Motor Company (1960-1961), always with a
copy of the Harvard Business Review tucked under his arm, from the moment of his
designation as defense chief, fervently finessed his way within the Pentagon whipping
up the notion that he could make of us a species of corporate manager-officers with a
clon-like cadre of enlisted men at our beck and call standing at attention and primed to
obey our each and every corporate-like whim. Poor Mac! The Pentagon's Plumber!
Worse for him, in his delusion of grandeur, was the fact that the military personnel in
Vietnam had been weaned on the brutality of the First World War and the Second
World War by Hollywood films. They did not want to have anything to do with
uniformsmuch less a war. The whole national fighting force of the United States
just backfired on the unsuspecting Pentagon. (United States' President Harry S
Truman: I didn't fire him (General Douglas MacArthur) because he was a dumb sonof-a-bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it were, half
to three-quarters of them would be in jail.)
This was what Colonel Thomas had warned me about at Fort Sill. Veteran officers and
non-commissioned officers, from the Second World War and the Korean War,
conceived of combat in a different light. These soldiers were called brown shoe
troops; they had no admiration for Bob McNamara. Uncannily, I was stunned to hear
many of them calling out the need to 'nuke' North Vietnam and get this damn political
war over with now. This tension certainly compromised the conduct of military
strategy in Vietnam. The Vietnam War went on its merry way because only 15% of
troops were on the battle field while the other 85% lingered in division base camps
waiting for their DEROS releases. Big business was
carried on in Bravo Charlie, and more than one supply sergeant illegally sent to National
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Guard armories predominantly in the South, at the expense of Uncle Sam, huge orders
for US military weapons and other arms that would later be sold to para-military, antigovernment, often violent dissidents.
I functioned as an artillery officer in Vietnam in the United States Army from August
1967-August 1968. On 29 February 1968, Robert Strange McNamara resigned his
office as Secretary of Defense. On 4 April 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr was
assassinated. (On the day of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr, an army sergeant
from Mississippi, with the most unkind grin I had ever seen before, asked me this:
Lieutenant (Yankee!), we are having a cocktail party today at 18:00 to celebrate the
death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Are you coming?) On 6 June 1968, Robert F
Kennedy was assassinated. In this aura of violence and hate, befuddled 19-year-old
soldiers in Vietnam were obligated to serve their disconnected country at a distance of
13,000 miles from their homes.
OBSERVATION TWO

To be continued...