First Tour

Viet Nam Experiences For Lee The following recollections were written for Chuck's grandson, Lee. In 1965 I graduated from college and received my gold bars signifying being a commissioned officer in the United State Army. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I thought those bars that Mary pinned on my shoulders were surely the shiniest gold bars that had ever been pinned on the epaulettes of a green uniform. We were ordered to Hawaii and the 1st Battalion 69th Armor 25th Infantry Division as a platoon leader. I was in command of five tanks and twenty men. Upon arrival the rumors were already flying that the division was slated for deployment to RVN. We spent a few months there and I received confirmation we were to deploy. Mary and your infant mother (Charla) boarded a ship for the United States mainland and I boarded a ship for Okinawa. It was a long ship ride and I remember standing at the rail looking out over the pacific contemplating the upcoming combat. I was never afraid of dying because that happened to other people, but I was terrified that I might run or prove incompetent. We arrived in Okinawa and were issued brand new M48A1 tanks. They were diesel powered and had a 90mm main gun with the very latest M60 7.62mm coax mounted machine gun and the cupola sported a caliber 50 machine gun that was one of the most powerful small arms in the world. We spent a month training in Okinawa and getting drunk in the officers club and eating all the exotic food we could find downtown. I even ate raw octopus. Those suckers on the tentacles will stick to your tongue. I wrote to Mary nearly every day and she wrote to me. We finally finished the training and loaded the tanks and all our equipment on an LST (landing ship tank). They are a flat bottomed ship, not much bigger than a large Yacht that holds the17 tanks of a tank company and the ancillary equipment. My tank was the last one loaded and to be the first one off. We sailed into the South China Sea. The water was beautiful and we kept busy doing map exercises, and Physical training. Those nagging doubts about courage and competency were still there as I stood at the rail thought about Mary and Charla, and watched the moon play on the waters of the sea. We stopped in the middle of the South China Sea for a swim call. It was a welcome break from the monotony of training sessions. They stopped the ship and we dove into the sea. I swam away from the ship for some time and when I turned to look the ship was very far away. I turned to swim back to the ship but was not gaining on it. Finally exhausted, I waved and yelled until I got someone's attention. They sent a whale boat out for me. When I climbed on board the Chief Petty Officer was a little perturbed at the butter bar (derogatory term for a 2nd lieutenant) who had caused him to have to launch his whale boat. The company officers had a big laugh at my expense but I took it knowing my turn would come. The night before we were to land in Viet Nam The company commander called all the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants to the ward room for the issue of the operations order for the landing. There was a large map on the wall with the usual tactical markings all over it. We were told that when we hit the beach we were to be prepared for anything. No one knew what to expect. Everyone went to their bunks with some trepidation. The next morning we went below and mounted our tanks before the shore came into sight. Then the call came over the radio. "Pearly Shells- this is pearly shells six, crank engines and lock and load." That meant to start the tanks up and put bullets in all the weapons. We were nervous and the drivers were constantly gunning the engines. I charged the caliber 50 and heard the round go into the chamber. The loader loaded the main gun and the coaxial mounted machine gun. The LST hit the beach and skidded to a stop on the sand. The ramp fell and I commanded the driver to move out. The tank rolled out at high speed and I looked around. There were guys lying on the beach with their girlfriends and water skiing in the ocean. We landed at Nha Trang on the Rest and recreation beach. There was probably no safer place in Nam. Needless to say we felt a little foolish, but we were still very tense. The next day we road marched to our new base camp on 3rd Brigade Hill in Pleiku RVN (Republic of Viet Nam). We passed through the notorious Mang Yang Pass. The road was a very narrow black top road that snaked through a narrow defile that had been the setting for the defeat of numerous French armored columns. We were understandably nervous as we traversed this formidable land mark. It was the perfect bottleneck and location for an ambush. Luckily the V.C. (Viet Cong) were smarter than we were and knew that they had no weapons system with which to challenge a tank company. Pleiku was in the central highlands about 30 miles from the Cambodian border. Third Brigade Hill was just East of Pleiku city and consisted of one giant bare red dirt hill. The red dirt was everywhere in the Pleiku area and it got into your eyes, ears and even in the pores of your skin. Several weeks after returning to the world the red dirt still came out of my pores when I took a bath. There were several special forces camps arrayed between Pleiku and the border, but Pleiku was the only major U.S. installation in the highlands. B Company 1/69 Armor had primary duties that included road security, convoy escort, rapid reaction force for the special forces camps, and security for various fire bases, special forces camps and operational positions in the field surrounding Pleiku and an occasional search and destroy. There were various ways to accomplish these missions. ROAD SECURITY This mission consisted of spreading the tanks along a stretch of road either in teams or within mutual fire support distances. We then reacted up and down the road to distress calls from the convoys. I would occasionally run up and down the road in my tank with one of my other tanks to check on bottle necks and reconnoiter areas of potential ambush. CONVOY ESCORT Supply convoys ran up and down the roads to the fire bases and camps. They were made up of trucks, heavily loaded with food, fuel and ammunition. The tanks were dispersed among the trucks in order to lend more combat power to the small arms that were carried by the truck crews and counter ambushes with firepower and shock effect. Usually one tank ran in the lead and one in the rear with the other three tanks of the platoon interspersed in the convoy. The convoy commander was usually the transportation officer, but he usually deferred to the Armor officer in utilization of tanks. My tank normally ran in the center of the convoy so I could control the tanks. RAPID REACTION This mission was to be on alert to go to the aid of camps or positions under attack. This was the easiest and also the most boring of the missions. We simply waited until we were called then ran as fast as possible within the limitations of maintaining security of my platoon. SECURITY FORCES The Tank platoon was sometimes attached to Special forces camps or Infantry positions to augment their security. This usually consisted of deploying the tanks into prepared positions and adding to their firepower for defense of their position. This mission usually only was assigned when intelligence indicated that an enemy attack was immanent. Also included in this catagory was "Palace Guard" when we were detailed to secure High ranking Headquarters during field operations. SEARCH AND DESTROY The Tanks with attached infantry or attached to the infantry roamed around the jungle trying to locate VC base camps or supply caches and destroy them. If the tanks ever found these positions they were usually abandoned because they were too smart to try and oppose a tank platoon with the weaponry they had available. I know all of that was pretty technical but it all boils down to the fact that we had bigger guns and more brute force than anybody else on the ground in the conflict at that time and were in demand to help the other branches of the Army out when they got into deep shit. We settled into a routine and everyone agreed we needed to name our tanks. My tank was "The War eagle" and had a big blue eagle with talons extended and lightning bolts. There was also "War Lord", "Lucky Lady", "Born To Be Wild" and "War Horse". I am going to try to describe what it's like to being unhappy about being separated from those you love but also being excited about the task at hand and trying to reconcile the fact that you are happy you are there but sad that you are not with your loved ones. I carried pictures of Mary and Charla and looked at them often. Especially at night when it was quite and still and I could take a few minutes for myself. There was always an empty feeling- most guys would say in their hearts- but I would describe it more like in the pit of my stomach. It was always there because I knew that a part of me was not with me and there was some danger that I would never see them again. I was not afraid to die but I was scared to death of what would happen to Charla and Mary if I did. I knew they would get over it and do fine but I knew that Mary would suffer horrendously for the short term and did not want her to have to go through that. Every minute of every day that hollow spot was there in the pit of my stomach, but was mostly noticeable during the quite times. We were only attacked once while on the roads and that was a real farce. These Viet Cong came charging out of the brush with AK47 small caliber automatic rifles and one was waving a sword. I was pretty much laughing at them until bullets started to ricochet off my cupola. Once I realized they posed a real threat to me and my men I reacted. I ordered all tanks to fire on them and they were eliminated almost before my command was completed. There were lots of good times too. Like the time we were running down a rain slick clay surfaced road in my tank at maximum speed(about 40 MPH) and my driver put it into neutral steer (one track goes one way and the other rotates the opposite way). We became a 52 ton steel sled careening down the slick road. Four grown men laughing like hell and acting like a bunch of ten year olds. There was the game we played with the abandoned Montangard houses. These houses were built of straw with wooden frames and were elevated on stilts. We would line up and run at these huts punching the gun tube through the straw wall and picking them, up on the front decks of the tanks. The one who carried his house the farthest before it collapsed was the winner. We hadn't been in RVN very long when we stopped for the night in a position that strung us out pretty far apart, but still within mutual support. We had taken our positions and it was getting late but the sun was still up. I decided to tour the line and check the positions. As I checked the position I visited a little with each crew and then moved on to the next crew. I was at one-four visiting with the Platoon Sergeant's crew when he said "Sir, don't you think you should be returning to your tank?" I looked up and it was dark. He offered to send two men to escort me back to my tank but I refused. I thought I had to be macho and show no fear in front of the men. I was walking back along the trail and it got a little spooky so I took my 45 caliber automatic pistol out of my holster and was carrying it in my hand as I walked along. There was a noise behind me and I whirled around trying to rapidly bring the pistol to bear on the source of the noise, but I lost my grip on it and it fell uselessly on the ground. I scooped it up on the run and ran toward my tank Yelling "It's Lieutenant Markham and I'm coming in! DON'T SHOOT! I had panicked and even forgot to use the pass word but my crew watched as I jumped aboard. I think they were very amused that their macho leader had temporarily lost his cool. During the monsoon season the rains came hard and almost continuously. The convoys became mired in the ever present mud and we had a ball charging them one of what ever they were hauling to pull them out. We wound up with lots of Cokes, Beer, Rations and cigarettes, much of which we gave away to the Infantrymen we encountered on our occasional sweeps through the jungle. I never drank coffee until I went to Viet Nam and I smoked only filter cigarettes. Coffee first- Whenever that tank stopped, no matter how short the halt was, my gunner would be out on the back deck of that tank and start pumping up the one man gas stove and putting the coffee pot on. We always had coffee and seldom had anything cold to drink. We drank our coke and beer hot because we had no ice or refrigeration. Coffee became the drink of choice. I also started smoking Pall Mall cigarettes. They were the strongest American cigarette made and were king size, non-filter. The reason I got hooked on them was that I was the platoon leader and the only officer in the platoon. When we got our weekly platoon sundry pack ( a large box with toiletries, gum, sewing stuff and cigarettes) I always let the men have first choice on the items and I took what was left. Pall Malls were usually what was left, so the platoon Sergeant and I smoked Pall Malls. The platoon Sergeant was Puerto Rican, but was from Hawaii. His wife use to send care packages with big sacks of rice. When we extorted ration trucks stuck in the mud we oftentimes got large cans of meat, vegetables and spices. When we loggered (parked the tanks in a circle with the weapons systems pointing out for defense) for the night or pulled into a firebase he would start a fire and cook some of the most delicious stew and put it on rice. Sometimes we had no canned stuff so we would shoot an animal butcher it and cook it in the stew. We had monkey, wild pig, parrot, lizard and one time elephant ( we shot the elephant because it was with a vc platoon and was being used for a pack animal) stew. We all had our personal choices of side arms. Officers and NCO's (non-commissioned officers, Sergeants) were issued the standard 45 caliber Colt automatic pistol. This pistol was notoriously inaccurate but had a lot of stopping power. If a man was struck pretty much anywhere on his body with this large, high powered bullet he was going down and probably be in shock. In addition we had "grease guns" 45 caliber automatic sub machine guns that were compact but once again, short range and inaccurate. I obtained a 12 gauge pump remington shotgun with several hundred rounds of shells that contained s about eight shot the size of small ball bearings. I cut off the barrel right in front of the pump mechanism and the stock at the hand grip. This made it compact enough to hang in my cupola but powerful enough to get the enemy off my tank should any manage to get on board. The medal second from the bottom right in the case is the Vietnamese cross of gallantry with Palm. The star indicates that there were two awards. It is a medal presented me by the Vietnamese Government for one of the first actions we were involved in. We were on security duty at Duc Co which was right on the Cambodian border due West of Pleiku. A CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, like our national guard) unit was in deep shit (TROUBLE) about 10 miles north of the compound in the jungle along a trail. The Camp commander asked me to go in and pull them out. We loaded a bunch of Green Berets and Montangard soldiers onto the tanks and headed North as fast as we could go. When we got into the vicinity the Green Berets and their Montagnards dismounted and followed the Tanks as we charged into the clearing where the firefight was taking place. We were in Radio contact with the American advisor for the unit and he told me they were in contact with the Cong, but they were North of his unit on the opposite side of the clearing from where we would enter. By radio, My tank was third in the line of three, I instructed the platoon to deploy along the southern side of the clearing and rake the other wood line with all available firepower while the CIDG's loaded on the back decks of the tanks. Then we would back out of the clearing and retrace our tracks back to Duc Co. We charged into the clearing with all our guns blazing. The American advisor brought his wounded up behind the tanks and loaded them on board. He then radioed me and told me he had too many men to load onto the tanks so he would bunch up behind the tanks and keep them between him and the enemy as we left the clearing. The massed firepower of the five tanks (five 7.62 machine guns, five caliber .50 machine guns and five 90 mm canons spewing canister shot and high explosive shells with an occasional white hot, white phosphorus round thrown in for good measure) kept the Cong pinned down on the north side of the clearing as we executed a left turn and slowly moved out of the clearing. Once outside the clearing we stopped and loaded the CIDG's, The Green Berets and The Montagnards onto the tanks and hauled ass. We had "little people" (what we called Vietnamese troops) hanging all over the tanks but we got them all back to Duc Co. Two of the wounded succumbed on the way but we saved over 50 Montagnard troops. The Special Forces went back to the area several days later and credited us with killing 25 Viet Cong and breaking up a planned sneak attack on Duc Co. Sometime later the platoon was in Duc Co after escorting a convoy out from Pleiku. I had been riding in the middle of the convoys for weeks telling my crew that we had to stay in the center so in case of action I could control the action. The crew had been griping about always being the one eating the dust while the other tanks rotated to the lead and various positions to get some relief from the dust cloud. An emergency radio call interrupted my conversation with the camp commander. The B Company commander told me on the company command net that was only monitored in my tank that a VC unit had been spotted setting up an ambush for a convoy between us and Pleiku. He also informed me that they were suspected to have an anti-tank capability. He gave me the map coordinates and told us to attack that position as soon as possible. My crew had been listening to my conversation with the "Old Man" (usual term for the commander) over the external speakers. I yelled to the platoon who were all watching from their tanks parked nearby. "Saddle UP!" All tanks cranked up. I broadcast on the Platoon net, monitored in all five tanks, "Pearly Shells (our platoon call sign) This is Pearly Shells one six" (my personal call sign). Move out, order of march, one six, one one-one, one two, one four and one five". That put my tank in the lead. We roared West down the Road toward Pleiku. My loader was the first to comment on the order of march. "Sir all these weeks when there was little danger of encountering anti tank you had us running in the middle and eating dust." My gunner, who was a sergeant told the young man to be quite but I wanted to hear what else he had to say. "Now we are charging at reported anti tank weapons and you got us out front. "Aint there something wrong with this picture, sir?" I laughed because he was obviously just hassling me. He had a smile on his face and laughter in his voice. The driver chimed in that he thought the picture was not a pretty one either but added he might at least get to run over a Charlie( short for VC. The military alphabet for V is victor and C is Charlie. Therefore the official way to say V-C was Victor Charlie. V-C stand for Viet Cong). I explained, though it was not necessary, that we were the only tank that had received the map coordinates and therefore were the logical leaders. The only answer I got was "Yea Right, Sir". We never did encounter the VC that day but my crew ragged me pretty badly every time I made them ride third in the column. During the famous Ia Drang Valley battle conducted by the 1st Cavalry Division, My platoon was assigned to palace guard for the brigade headquarters that was conducting the search and destroy mission. We were about 20 miles from the initial LZ where the blue platoon from the 7th Cavalry was inserted. They were inserted in the midst of at least a Battallion of NVA (North Vietnamese Army) regulars who had reinforcements at their disposal. All hell broke loose! I was in the operations tent when the battle started. The Cav kept heli-lifting small infantry units into the area and they were being defeated piecemeal. I repeatedly asked the Operations officer to give me an infantry platoon and let me take my tanks, with all their combat power, into the area and get the trapped Sky Soldiers out but he refused. I was so frustrated as I listened to those men begging for help that I had to leave the tent to keep them from seeing me cry and also insure that I didn't attack someone. After the Battle, days later, the Ops officer informed me he didn't let me go because it was a "Cav show" and they had to prove that the Air Cavalry concept would work. They did win the battle but at horrendous cost in American lives. One day we got an order to go on a search and destroy mission in the jungles and abandoned rice paddies. We were out busting trails through the jungle when we broke into a clearing. One-two was leading followed by one-three and then me. The Platoon Sergeant in one-four followed up by one -five covering the rear. One two signaled a halt and the tank commander climbed down from his tank and trekked out to the center of what looked like an abandoned rice paddy. I gave orders for the tanks to take up a security posture (face alternating direction giving a 360 degree fire cover for the column), and told the Platoon Sergeant to dismount and come forward with me. We walked to the abandoned rice paddy. There was a small stream about 1 to 2 feet wide and nearly dry. The Platoon Sergeant, a veteran of over 20 years service in the Tank Corps, said "Lieutenant, we can't cross here. The tanks will sink out of sight". I walked across the surface of the abandoned rice paddy. Jumped up and down and replied. "They told me in Armor School that if I could walk on it, it would support a tank. We can cross. Mount up and move out". "Yes Sir", was the Platoon Sergeant's only reply. We all mounted up and I ordered one-two forward. She rolled out onto the paddy and traveled about one vehicle length before she broke the crust of the ground. It folded the crust behind each track exactly the width of the tracks like long strings of turf, and promptly settled into the muck until it rested solidly on it's belly. It took all four tanks hooked in sequence to pull one two out of the mud and I never again questioned the platoon Sergeant on the technical capabilities of the M-48A3 Tank. We were attached to an infantry outfit with the assignment of securing the Mang Yang Pass. Every time I got attached to an infantryman it seemed I had a confrontation but I always won. This time I had to call my Company Commander in to over rule a stupid order from an Infantry Captain. I had just rolled into the Artillery fire base at the northwestern end of the Mang Yang pass and reported to the Infantry Captain to whom I was to be attached until further notice. He first asked me to position my tanks on the perimeter at my discretion and then ordered me to have one tank sweep (drive through the pass and back each morning before the pass was opened). I was shocked. That violated many of the tactical tenants I had been taught . Never send a tank out without another tank so they can provide mutual support, and preferably with infantry to counter against sneak infantry attacks and was in my opinion stupid and suicidal for a tank crew. If a single tank hit an antitank mine in the pass and were disabled they would be sitting ducks until I could reach them from my position at the entry to the pass. The Mang Yang was a narrow track of black top road that wound through a chasm with nearly vertical walls towering several hundred feet on each side. It was a perfect choke point for an ambush. I told the Captain that I would not send a single tank in there. I told him I would be happy to send two or my section of three but not one tank. He blew a cork. "YOU!" he said "Are a second lieutenant and I", pointing to the silver railroad tracks on his collar, 'am a captain. You will follow orders or face court martial!". "Yes Sir" I replied, saluted and did an about face and walked to my tank. I immediately got on the Company Command net and informed The Old Man what was going on and specifically about the threat the captain had made. The Old Man told me to wait while he contacted the captain's commander. In about 10 minutes The Old Man called me back and told me to go talk to the Captain again. I once again reported to the Captain. If his look could have killed I would have been instantly dead. His voice dripped animosity but his words were welcome. He told me that I was the armor man on location and that I would be required to clear the pass every morning but I could use whatever assets I felt necessary. He also gave the platoon the mission of selecting positions inside the pass from which we could, support by fire and/or assault, the convoys that were traversing the pass daily. "Wilco Sir"(will comply) was my only reply as I saluted and returned to my platoon. The next morning The Platoon Sergeant and one-five the other tank in his section swept the pass without incident. He and I selected positions inside the pass where we could mutually support each other inside the pass but made us readily available for reaction to an ambush. The tactics we developed during the next two weeks were used by each relieving Platoon. We rotated that duty among the three tank platoons and the three platoons of the Cavalry troop every two weeks until the mission was assumed by a duster (four caliber 50 machine guns fired simultaneously from one mount aboard a two and one half ton truck. While at the Mang Yang on one of our stays there the 155 artillery unit challenged my gunner to a shooting contest pitting the 155 howitzer against our 90mm tank gun. Their gun was bigger but ours was designed for direct precision fire while the 155 was designed for indirect area fire. There was a dead tree on top of the canyon wall. I did a range on it with my tank range finder and got 1200 meters, right at maximum effective range for the tank and I had no idea what the direct fire capabilities of the howitzer were. My gunner, Sergeant Jackson, accepted the talent. Two cases of beer were wagered and we had lots of that from pulling out mired trucks. We spent the afternoon before the contest ranging and re-ranging on that tree. Then we set the super elevation computer on and watched the tube elevate to allow for the drop of the round at that extreme range. We spent the evening pouring over tactical maps and double checking the range finder as best we could. We did manual calculations on super elevation and as usual they did not agree with the computer or the range finder. We decided to go with the equipment on the tank and went to bed. The next morning the gunners lined up the shot. The first one to score a direct hit won. If both had a hit on the first round it would be a tie. The howitzer would fire first. They missed. Sergeant Jackson fired and the round hit just in front of the tree. our range had been slightly off. we didn't know where the howitzer round landed but he got the next shot and if he blew up the tree we lost. Now we had to decide how much to elevate. Sergeant Jackson had the round spotted and assured me he would hit dead on next time. His words as I recall were something like, I'll blow the hell out of that mother next time. The howitzer fired again but was off line to the left and the tree was still standing. Sergeant Jackson aimed and fired, the tree disappeared in the explosion of a high explosive round on direct impact. We won the beer, put the artillery in their place and developed a gunnery team in my tank that were beyond compare. All the members of the crew, Driver, Loader, Gunner and I all understood how the operate the gunnery equipment and in a crunch could do it manually. Another time we were attached to an infantry unit for a search and destroy mission in the jungle between Pleiku and Duc Co. An infantry Lieutenant climbed aboard my tank and said go East on the highway. I so instructed the platoon on the radio and we moved out. We were told there was a system of trenches and a possible V.C. base camp at a location designated by a set of map coordinates. The infantry lieutenant was following along on a little map as we careened along. He leaned over and said we should be about here as he pointed to a spot on the map. I looked at his map and at mine. I unfolded his map and found that we had run completely off the map sheet he had. He was thinking at Infantry speed- 3 1/2 MPH and we were moving at Armor Speed 25 MPH. He was very embarrassed and I enjoyed needling him . I was attached to the Special Forces Camp at Duc Co because intelligence had information that an attack there was likely. When we reached the camp I circled the platoon and saluted and reported to the Green Beret captain that was in charge of the camp. He showed me around then we walked back to the platoon. He was an Infantry Officer and started telling me where I would position my tanks. He wanted me to position my tanks outside the wire and too far apart for mutual fire support. I told him I wasn't going to do that and he went into the normal Infantry Captain tirade with some added verve because he was a Green Beret too. I just shrugged gave the sign to saddle up (pointing the right index finger at the sky and rapidly twirling it clockwise). Five big diesel engines cranked up immediately and crew members rapidly assumed their positions. The Captain was following me and still screaming at me as I walked toward the "war Eagle". Before I could mount up he screamed "Lieutenant!" I paused and turned to see what he might want to say. "You can't leave" he said much more quietly. "The hell I can't". I replied. "You want me to commit suicide and take my entire Platoon with me. I will not do that!" I started to climb aboard the tank but stopped when he asked how I would position the tanks. He was the expert on the area so I first asked him where he expected the main attack to take place. He told me and I told him I would put the heavy section (My tank one-one, and the other two tanks of my section, one-two and one-three) inside the wire able to provide each other mutual fire support astride the primary avenue of approach. I continued that I would place the light section (the platoon sergeant's tank, one-four and one-five) inside the wire and able to support each other on the most vulnerable area of the perimeter not astride the main avenue of approach. The engines were still idling and everyone was watching and waiting for my next signal. the Captain thought about it and reluctantly nodded his head in resignation. We positioned the tanks and spent an uneventful week enjoying the hospitality of the Special Forces. They had a small club with COLD beer and Ice cream. They had Steaks and fresh eggs. These were things we hadn't seen since we left the world. I remember having four eggs, sunny side up and a steak for breakfast. It was as close to heaven as we had been in many months. On the ship on the way to Okinawa I decided I needed a better watch than the Timex the Army issued me. I went to the ships store and purchased a $100 ( a hell of a lot of money in 1965 when my monthly salary was $242 per month) Bulova diving watch. It was tested water proof to several hundred feet deep in the ocean, shock resistant, etc., etc., etc. It ran just great, never lost a minute for several months-----then the monsoons came. It rained day and night for weeks. It rained so hard that the water running off the side of a tent resembled a major waterfall. The mud was thick and all pervasive. A tank amplifies mud. The tracks make the mud into a liquid that is always ankle deep. We were never dry. We slept in wet clothes inside a wet sleeping bag inside a wet tent if we were lucky, if not inside a wet tank. One morning while we were refueling the tank I looked at my watch. IT WAS FULL OF WATER. It was still running but by noon it had rusted solid and would never tic another tock. I went to my barracks bag and retrieved the Army issue Timex and wore it the rest of my tour. It kept perfect time and never let me down. that was my last expensive watch. There was and still is a medallion on my dog tag chain that Charla gave me shortly before I departed for Viet Nam. It is a cross with the head of a crucified Jesus on it. On the back is engraved "To My Love 12-25-65". That medallion became my talisman and I was convinced that as long as that medallion was with me nothing could happen to me. One day I woke up and couldn't find it. My crew knew how I felt about that piece of silver and they were as concerned as I was. We took the inside of that tank apart and found it under the floor plates. I still have the medallion and believe that it brought me through both tours of duty in Viet Nam. I am often asked why I decided to go to flight school and I always tell people that it was because the Armor career people at The Armor Advanced Course told me that Air Cavalry was the future of Armor and that we should get in on the ground floor. Now I'm going to tell you the real reason I became a helicopter pilot. It was during the monsoons and we were out in the jungle loggered in a clearing securing an infantry command post. Mud was everywhere and We came under mortar attack. Rounds were exploding all around and shrapnel was whizzing all around. I dove under my tank and crawled to a road wheel and stuck my head inside it while holding the steel pot securely on my head, figuring double protection for my most vital organ was warranted. When the attack ended I climbed out from under the tank. I was coated with mud. It had been forced down the front of my shirt and pans. It covered my tanker boots. I was miserable and had little hope of getting time to clean up before dark. A small helicopter that looked like a plastic bubble on the end of a stick under a fan ( later I found out it was an H-23 Hiller and was the aircraft I would solo at Fort Wolters) circled the clearing and landed. A warrant officer about eighteen years old got out of this diminutive bird and I stared in disbelief. He had freckles across his nose and wore a pair of aviator sun glasses, a pair of starched fatigues with military creases, and a pair of spit shined cordovan jump boots. There were a few clumps of grass that had survived the 52 ton behemoths that had churned the clearing into a sea of mud. This prissy young Warrant Officer tip toed across the clumps of grass to keep from getting his boots muddy and I said right then. "That's the way to fight a war." We were on a search and destroy mission on the Cambodian Border West of Duc Co. We were under the tactical control of the Company Commander who was attached to an infantry Battalion. My platoon was told to go out and bust through the jungle along the border but not to cross the border. What they really wanted us to do was flush the NVA (North Vietnamese Regular Army. Regular army units organized and trained in North Viet Nam) into a trap set by the Infantry. I was sick and tired of the NVA hitting and then scurrying back across the border where we couldn't touch them so when I spotted a trench system just a few hundred yards across the border I decided to strike. I ordered the platoon on line and we attacked. The NVA was taken completely by surprise. They had never been attacked in Cambodia and they were totally unprepared. We were on them before they could organize a defense and even before they could run. They returned ineffective fire as we got tanks astraddle of their trenches and raked them with machine gun fire and 90MM cannister rounds. Cannister was a particularly effective anti personnel round that had hundreds of steel cylinders the size of a the first joint of a man's little finger encased in a 90mm shell casing. When fired the cylinders dispersed in a pattern much like an unchoked shotgun round. We rendered an NVA battalion completely ineffective. The commander heard all the fire coming from near the border and called on the radio to ask if I was in a fire fight. I answered in the affirmative and reported our status as being fully engaged but kicking ass. The NVA didn't have any weapons to counter heavy armor and were no threat to us. The "Old Man" asked for map coordinates for our location. He was airborne in a helicopter and was already headed our way. I told him I wasn't sure of our exact location but gave him coordinates just inside South Viet Nam almost due East of our actual location. When he arrived at the border and still couldn't find us he was pissed. He started screaming that we were violating a sovereign border and to get our butts back into South Viet Nam. I reluctantly abandoned the ass whipping we were giving the NVA and returned to our side of the border. I was chewed out severely but when that was over the "Old Man" patted me on the back and winked. He was unofficially very pleased that we had finally got the drop on the enemy instead of reacting to their attacks. We were stationed as perimeter security for an artillery fire base and an infantry outfit out across the river next to the Cambodian border. It was the monsoon season and the rains had flooded the river stranding We could not return to secure areas because there was no way for our tanks to cross the river. One of my tanks had a bad final drive (the gear box that transfers energy from the engine to the tracks) and I had my shirt of, elbow deep in gear oil groping around inside to see if I could feel what was wrong with it. A helicopter landed and being the closest officer to where it landed, I hastily put on my shirt and reported to the general officer who dismounted from the chopper. It was the 4th Infantry Division Commanding General (C.G.) who's operational control we had recently been placed. He looked me up and down and started chewing me out. He told me that I was the sorriest excuse for a U.S. Army officer he had ever seen and that my appearance was an abhorrence etc., etc., etc. Brigadier General Walker, an Armor General and the Assistant Division Commander was with him. When the ass chewing was over and the C.G. walked away General Walker winked at me and very pointedly said "Get the tank fixed Lieutenant." I went back to the tank and determined that we needed a new final drive. They heli-lifted one to us that evening and we replaced it with the help of the artillery wrecker. I later found out that the C.G. had placed a red flag on my records to indicate that no favorable personnel action was to be considered unless he specifically approved it. As a result of that flag my promotion to 1st Lieutenant was delayed. After 27V (see the next story) General Walker the new 4th Infantry Division Commander presented my medals and my 1st Lt. silver bars. My promotion was back dated to my original promotion date. 27V was the landing zone designation for a Republic of Korea (ROK) Infantry Company base of operations south east of Duc Co. It was a clearing in the jungle that accommodated the company size perimeter with about 100 yards of cleared area called fields of fire between the trenches and the jungle. The perimeter was generally circular but the Koreans had dug the position with tank positions integrated into the circle so that when we occupied our positions we had a Korean firing point at each front fender of each tank. When we arrived we relieved another tank platoon and assumed their positions. We were positioned so that my section, one-two, one- three and my tank were on the most likely infantry avenue of approach, and the light section, one- five and one-four (the platoon sergeants tank) was covering the most likely armor avenue of approach. (there were no enemy tanks in the war, but we always prepared for them just in case the NVA were to get some.) I reported to the ROK Company Commander who spoke no English. His interpreter was a young ROK lieutenant who was the artillery forward observer. The CO welcomed me profusely and asked if there was anything I needed. I got the pre-planned artillery targets in the area and the infantry final defense fire plan so I could integrate my fire into those plans and returned to my tank. By that time the men had already erected the 4 man tents and set up the BBQ grills behind the tanks. The coffee was going and everyone was laughing and joking as they pulled the maintenance on the tanks and heated their C rations. I called all the tank commanders together for a meeting and we formulated a preliminary fire support plan and I set a 25%, 24 hour watch schedule. This meant that one man had to be on every tank at all times ready to react to an enemy attack and fight the tank until the rest of the crew could get aboard. I then set a deadline for each tank commander to have his final fire plan to me and they departed. I grabbed my gunner and we went out in front of the tank to walk the ground and plot any dead spots that we couldn't reach with direct fire. About 25 meters out to our right front was a shallow depression and a grove of Banana trees, A shallow gully led from the jungle to this depression. It was the only place to my front between the jungle and the perimeter where the enemy could take refuge during an attack. The gunner, Sergeant Jackson. and I plotted it very carefully and I later gave it to the artillery forward observer who also plotted it, but I never received the target designation. The next few days we settled into a rhythm. I always took the final watch so I could sleep uninterrupted and be on the tank at the most vulnerable time for attack, Dawn. As it turned out Dawn was not the most vulnerable time but that's what we were taught in armor school- another armor school theory debunked. Small shelters appeared over the cupolas of the tanks made from ponchos and sticks to shield the guy on watch from the sun and the rain. The BBQ grills were in use a lot to cook up some of the hoard we had left from pulling trucks from the monsoon mud. Fire extinguishers were occasionally accidentally discharged on a case of coke or beer to cool it off for a welcome cold drink , cigarettes were smoked by the carton and coffee drunk by the gallon. We were bored. The Koreans had physical training and Judo training every morning before they departed on patrol. We were shocked at their NCO's treatment of their enlisted men. If an enlisted man made the slightest mistake during these early morning sessions they were beaten with closed fists and yelled at unmercifully. When I questioned the ROK lieutenant about this practice he merely said that was their way of disciplining their soldiers and it made them tougher. Every Korean soldier in RVN was a volunteer, and there was a waiting list in home units to get a slot in the White Horse Division. (The Korean Division that served in Viet Nam.) The night before we were due to be relieved by another tank platoon those of us not on watch went to our tents and bedded down as usual. About 2300 hours (11 PM) a Korean sergeant climbed up on one two and told the tank commander, Sergeant Fernyhough (pronounced fernyhew) he heard something out front and requested that he recon by fire. The Sgt. complied. I was wakened by the sound of the coax machine gun on one two and sat up in my cot. I wondered why an M-60 was firing in the middle of the night, but was not overly concerned. Things happen like accidental discharge of weapons so I waited. All hell broke loose. There were explosions all over the perimeter and one two opened fire with his main gun. The infantry was firing and I recognized the unmistakable rattle of the AK-47 as the enemy poured small arms fire into our position. I normally slept fully clothed, only removing my boots. This night I had decided to take a break and sleep in my underwear. I leapt for the entrance to the tent and crouched between the tank and the tent to get my bearings. Mortar rounds were landing all around but I determined I could get into the tank. I yelled at my gunner who was on watch, to make room I was on the way. I climbed onto the back deck and crouched behind the turret. When I got my nerve up I leapt to the top of the turret and jumped into the hatch in the cupola. The cupola is located atop the turret on the right side. I had to stand straight up and raise my arms above my head in order to jump through the hatch and land on the tank commanders platform on my feet. In the process a mortar round landed on the left side of the turret and peppered my left side with shrapnel (small pieces of metal that radiate from an exploding round with tremendous force). The turret had taken the brunt of the force and deflected the largest portion of the shrapnel upward. The small pieces had penetrated the skin but little else. I was bleeding rather profusely but was too busy trying to get command of the situation to notice. The loader, a man we called SCOOF, because when we were in Schofield Barracks Hawaii he couldn't pronounce it and always called it Scoofield Barracks, I don't remember his real name and the driver Specialist four Lincoln Jones came tumbling into the turret through the loaders hatch. The gunner was in his seat and already had the computer online ready to go. The guns were always loaded so he was only waiting for me. I got on the radio and asked for situation reports from the tanks. The only tank actually under attack was one two and he said they were holding their own and requested artillery. I looked over the top of the cupola and saw that artillery flares were filling the sky and the clearing to my front was lighted about like a high School football stadium. I could detect no movement to my front so I relayed one two's request to the artillery forward observer. I also took the opportunity to call the company headquarters and relay the fact that we were under attack. The Radio operator roused the Old Man. I must have sounded a little panicked so he calmly told me he was there and would be there to advise me but that he would not interfere with my directing the battle. That word calmed me and gave me much greater confidence. I then looked over the battlefield more carefully and could see the enemy crawling toward our position. At about this time my loader yelled over the intercom, "OH SIR YOU"RE GOING TO DIE!". That was all I needed. I was starting to feel a little fuzzy headed from loss of blood I guess. I wiped some blood from my side, I was still dressed only in my underwear, and told Scoof to bandage it up. I was directing fire as my tank engaged the enemy and I felt Scoof messing with my side. The next time I looked down he had dozens of small band aids on my side. one for each little hole he could find. I burst out laughing because he could have gotten a gauss bandage out of the same first aid kit and bandaged my wounds in one fell swoop. He said he wanted to make sure he didn't miss any holes. I didn't criticize his work. At about this time there was a call on my platoon radio net. "Pearly Shell One Six this is White Horse Six--over. I had no idea that White Horse six was General William Westmorland who was the Commander of all forces in the Republic Of Viet Nam. I was trying to run a battle and had received Carte blanch from my C.O. I rather impatiently replied--"I don't know who you are but get off my net!!" The only reply was "Roger out." I was directing fire at the enemy force crawling toward us when large green tracers erupted from the wood line and ricochet off my turret. A 51 Cal machine gun had spotted the two antennae on my tank and deduced that I was commanding the tanks as they decimated the enemy attackers. He opened fire on my tank. Intelligence later said the enemy thought we were self propelled artillery which can be penetrated by such a weapon, Tanks can not. He was firing directly at my tank and I could not get a good bearing on him to return fire. One of the men from one three had been trapped on the ground. He was in the trench behind one three and was on the ground commo phone mounted on the rear fender of each tank. He directed one three's fire until the machine gun was eliminated. He was wounded during the attack and later received a Silver Star, Purple Heart and a high Korean medal for working to move wounded men to the Korean hospital under fire. One three was a searchlight tank and was commanded by SSG Rene Gaboriault., We called him Gabby. A mortar round landed right on top of his turret and severed the cable that attached the searchlight to the tanks electrical system. When the cable was severed it shorted to the turret causing a direct short and disabling the tank's electrical system. Gabby climbed out onto the turret and knocked the cable loose insulated it with a piece of rubber and returned his tank to action. He was wounded in the process and received the silver star. During his second tour with the 1/69 Armor he was killed in action. After the 50 Cal machine gun was eliminated the enemy rose up and charged out position in mass. We were busier than a one armed paper hanger firing every weapon at our disposal. The 90mm cannister round was the most effective but the Coax machine gun and the caliber 50 in the cupola were also effective. The enemy charge was coming very close to our position and the Korean artillery observer called the artillery in "dangerous close". This is a term that means the artillery explosions can inflict casualties on friendly positions. The Koreans had thought we were about to be overrun. I did not have that feeling although I knew it was going to be tough. The artillery shells exploded so close to my tank that they rocked my tank and I heard shrapnel bouncing off the armor plate. About that time PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON joined the battle. "Puff" was a C-130 with several 20MM Gatlin Guns and a 90mm recoiless rifle on board. 'Puff" opened up and it looked like the sky had erupted with a tongue of fire. The tracers were every fifth round but it looked as if it was a solid line of tracers from the black void where the aircraft was flying to the ground. The enemy broke and ran for the trees. I thought maybe they were through but I was wrong. A pocket of enemy soldiers had hidden in the dead spot I had marked when setting up the initial fire plan and were delivering some pretty effective harassing fire. They were also firing an occasional antitank rocket (called an RPG2) but they hadn't hit a tank yet. I called for artillery but they were busy firing on the wood line trying to keep the enemy pinned down. Sgt. Jackson, my Gunner, said he thought he could take the position out. He had the loader set a High Explosive round on 1/10th of a second delay. He bounced the round off the ground directly in front of the position and got an air burst. The resultant shrapnel and concussion directly over the enemies head either killed or wounded the occupants and rendered them ineffective. They tried to occupy the position a few more times during the night but Sgt. Jackson simply repeated the feat and they soon gave up on that position. I then suggested to the Korean Commander that I take the Platoon and counter attack and sweep the enemy from the field. He denied permission screaming on the radio that I could not leave my position. I think he thought I was trying to abandon him. I was swept up with the spirit of the Cavalry and such a move would have been rash and dangerous. We were decimating the enemy from relatively safe positions but Armor school had instilled an offensive mind set in the young officers graduating from Fort Knox and it was hard for us to fight defensively. The enemy resumed their attack shortly and we repelled them again ripping great holes in their ranks. Twice more during the night they attacked and we repelled them each time. When the predawn started the enemy began slinking back into the forest and the artillery shifted to their rear trying to cut off their retreat. We were all bone tired but knew that we still had to sweep the battlefield and root out any lingering resistance. White Horse six once again called but this time on the company net and the old man let me know that I was to listen to him though I still didn't know who he was. he said he wanted prisoners and that I was to insure that prisoners were secured. I joined my platoon up with the ROK Infantry that was to perform the sweep of the battlefield. We formed up on line with infantry interspersed between our tanks and moved out with the left flank of the line anchored to the perimeter and the right flank extending to the tree line. We moved forward slowly and I was horrified at the number of bodies littering the ground. The tanks were hardly able to avoid the NVA dead as we moved. I started to hear intermittent small arms fire and queried my tank commanders as to who was firing. The reply was that the ROK's were killing all the wounded NVA. I immediately called the ROK's and asked them to stop killing the wounded so I could take prisoners. The reply I got was that all communists were to die. I called my Commander on the company net and informed him of what was happening. A few minutes later White Horse Six (General Westmoreland) was on the company net ordering me to capture some prisoners regardless of what was required as related to the ROK Commander. I located some wounded NVA and circled them with my tanks. MY loaders dismounted and loaded the wounded NVA onto the tanks and I returned to the perimeter. On the way back I heard a coax go off behind me and turned just in time to see an NVA soldier collapse, riddles by M-60 machine gun fire from Sgt. Ferneyhough's tank. The soldier had played dead as I passed and the arisen to take aim at my back. Sgt. Ferneyhough had saved my life. The Koreans continued to kill the rest of the wounded on the battlefield but I did save three. The ROK Commander demanded that I turn the captured NVA over to him and I refused. He threatened to take them from me and I told him I would use all the force at my disposal to prevent such an action. He then called my Commander who backed my play. General Westmoreland must have gone through the Korean chain of command because all Korean Demands ceased. I was beat so I went to my cot and to catch some sleep. The tent was shredded and there were four dud 60mm mortar rounds stuck in the ground around it. The NVA had targeted my tent because of the two antenna on my tank. My Platoon Sergeants tank also had two antenna and was similarly targeted. While I was asleep General Westmoreland and the Old Man flew in but would not let the men wake me. They said I had deserved my rest. General Westmoreland took charge of the prisoner and had them helilifted to the nearest interrogation center. Later that day the relief platoon arrived and my platoon departed the landing Zone, returning to the Brigade base camp for rest and maintenance. We later had an awards ceremony where everyone received their medals and the platoon was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. This award is very rarely presented below company level. That award is the blue ribbon worn above the right pocket on my dress uniform. It is not included in the display case because there is no medal but I am as proud of it as of any medal in the case. I had been in Viet Nam 12 days over my one year tour but the Old Man had asked me to stay a few days until he got a platoon leader to replace me. I was the only experienced Platoon leader he had left. He said I was the only one he thought was strong enough to handle the infantry Commanders at the Mang Yang Pass and not let them make the tanks do something stupid. One afternoon a helicopter landed and The Old Man got out with a brand new "Butter Bar"(a derogatory name for a 2nd Lieutenant because of the gold bar they wore to denote their rank). They walked over to my tank. I jumped down, came to attention and saluted the C.O. He said this was my replacement and that their was a "Freedom Bird" at Pleiku that would be leaving in one hour if I wanted I could be on it. I said Yes sir. I gathered the Platoon and said hurriedly farewells, got on the chopper and flew back to Bas Camp. I got one small valise and told the C.O. I was ready to go. He took me to Pleiku air field and said goodbye. I remember the elation when that C41 Air Force transport left the ground. Everyone yelled and celebrated. We all felt free of fear for the first time in many months and knew we would see our loved ones for the first time in a long time. I arrived at Los Angeles California the next day. I had taken a shower and changed into a class B Khaki uniform with the pants bloused over spit shined cocharon Jump boots and wearing all my ribbons and my black Vietnamese Tankers Beret. The beret was not an authorized headgear for wear in the United States but all the Military Policemen weren't sure and decided not to mess with this hard looking combat Vet that walked down the ramp of the inbound aircraft. There were war protesters at the airport. None of us had ever had any experience with them but we were angry when they shouted and spat at us. I went into the men's bathroom at the airport. their was a man standing with his back to me at the urinal with hair that reached his shoulder blades. I rushed back out and looked at the sign on the door to confirm I was in the right restroom. I thought I had inadvertently entered the women's room. I had never seen a man with hair that long. That ended my first tour in Viet Nam. I went to Fort Hood Texas where I commanded a personnel Service Company and then to Fort Knox where I commanded a Cavalry Advanced Individual Training Troop, then attended the Armor Advanced Course. From there I went to Fort Wolters to train to fly helicopters and return to Viet Nam for my second tour.