A recent college graduate and newly minted ROTC 2nd LT in January, 1965, I reported to Ft. Bliss Texas and joined about 50 others to start my Officers Basic Class in Air Defense Artillery (ADA). A few months later I was assigned to a STRAC (Strategic Army Corp - combat groups designated to be ready to go anywhere in the world in 72hrs) HAWK missile battalion at Ft. Bliss. The next month or so was intense. We lived in the desert...moving, setting up, and running ORE's. (Operational Readiness Evaluations). Sleeping in the desert in a bag on the sand is a treat...snakes, bugs, and cold...not to mention the blowing, stinging, sand.
We were operational 24 hours a day...just as we would be in a combat situation...and the USAF played enemy for us. At the time I thought there was nothing quite like being worn slick, asleep, and having an F-14 pass over you in the middle of the night on full burn less than 200 feet off the ground...and blow you right out of your sleeping bag. I learned later that wasn't really so bad. We were finally judged to be in tip-top readiness.
A few weeks later (July) we were told to pack our bags and our gear and our equipment and get ready to leave for an extended tour somewhere. By this time I had become the Battery Firing Platoon Leader.
Shortly, two STRAC HAWK Battalions boarded ship in Oakland and we sailed out under the Golden Gate without any idea where we were going. After almost 30 days at sea, with one stop and liberty in Okinawa, we had a pre-dawn officers call and were told we were in the South China Sea and would soon be debarking.,,in Vietnam. We could see flashes of gunfire in the distance and as the sun rose we could see aircraft bombing. The other Battalion off-loaded into landing craft and went ashore near Qui Nhon. We sailed south and the next day offloaded into landing craft and went ashore near Cape St. Jacque...and boarded C-119s to Bien Hoa AFB.
The base was still smoldering from a rocket attack. We slept in Quonset huts until our missiles, radars, and other equipment arrived and was unpacked and readied. My Battery Commander had just been promoted to Battalion staff and I met my new BC. He handed me a map and told me to go find a place somewhere in proximity to Bien Hoa to set up the Battery. I told my platoon Sgt and the Captain's driver to get their weapons and be ready to leave in an hour or so. Meanwhile I took the jeep and headed to the AF operations center to try and get the lay of the land.
The AF spotted the 1st Infantry (their first Vietnam combat operation was at Bien Hoa on 7/23/65, just a few weeks earlier) and other unit locations for me and told me the area surrounding the AFB was not secure...and although there were no large enemy forces known to be present, to be very alert.
Later that day I was shot at for the first time. I did find a great spot to locate our Battery on a hill north and west of Bien Hoa overlooking the AFB and a curve in the Song Dong river. The hill was home to a Vietnamese Popular Forces Squad+ and their MACV advisor, a 1st. Lt of Russian descent who was possibly the craziest person I've ever known.
I've slept in a hole filled with water and know what it's like to have every nerve in your body tell you it isn't smart to get out of that hole...but know it has to be done. I know what it's like to see body bags off-load from a flight of Huey's...or to watch while a VC company-sized force who thought they were going to ambush an operation near us on the edge of the Iron Triangle get fooled instead. Instead of ambushing us, they were ambushed. The huey's flared at the last moment and the A-1Es and napalm appeareed We watched them burn and shot them as they ran.
We did our job. I came home without a scratch (not counting amoebic dysentery and some weird fever). I was one of the very lucky ones and compared to so, so many more I had it easy. My great respect goes to the Infantry, Special Forces and Marines...and to the nurses and corpsmen and Doc's.
I'm proud of my service and the men and women who did what they were asked to do, and more. I detest the people who dodged the draft by hook or crook and let others do the heavy lifting while they themselves made their feeble excuses. Clinton, Bush, Cheney...and more.
Vietnam was not a war we needed to fight. As a soldier, I just did what was asked of me. In truth, we were not allowed to fight without one hand tied behind our back most of the time (Rules of Engagement...set by LBJ, another military genius in the White House).
Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country as are the Vietnamese people. I'd like to go back and see it at peace. Peace...what a beautiful word. Home...another beautiful word...our USA...for all its faults...my country and yours, and the finest place in the world to live.
By the dawn's early light...I see it...waving proudly...and I am humbled by all those who have given so much that we might be free. In my on-going quest to fully appreciate what others have done I have walked Omaha Beach and the hallowed ground in Normandy...and had my breath taken away.
And now, again, I see our young men and women coming home, again, crippled or in coffins. For what? For whom? And, I am seething with an anger that surpasses words.
Bush, Cheney, and their Cabinet and other appointee lickspittles, and their sycophants in Congress have destoyed our national dignity, suborned our individual rights and freedoms, shredded our Constitution, mortgaged our future, and shafted the working class and the poor. It's past time for Congress to both listen to the will of the people and to stand for the rule of law rather than rule by executive privilege, deceit, special interests, signing statements, and profiteering. Not tomorrow...not in 2009, but now! It's also time to bring our brave men and women home from Iraq.
These are the reasons we are here...and why we must prevail. Our concerted action and dedication to the causes of freedom, justice, and the rule of law is the only worthy and true memorial to those who have given their lives that we might live free.
Thanks to all of you for all you do.