(May 1970 to April 1971)

My Experience in Charlie Company – by Jerry Brenke

There is one thing I realize now, after going to our reunions and listening to everyone talk about their experiences, and having a basic knowledge about the history of the Vietnam War, that at the time I entered Charlie Company, I was going into the most dangerous combat area of Vietnam or at least “one” of the most dangerous areas. I guess it’s much better for me that I realize this now instead of when I joined C Company. The terrain we operated in reminds me very much of the Great Smokey Mountains. When we travelled, it was either by foot or by helicopter but mostly by foot. You were either walking up or down or it was always very steep. It’s one of those experiences when it’s darn near impossible to explain to someone who didn’t experience being in those conditions what it was like.

Now, you would think that walking uphill would be worse than walking downhill. One time right after we got resupplied with about a week’s worth of food and ammo, we were headed down this steep mountain. I was carrying an M-60 machine gun and 200 rounds of ammo, plus my rucksack when suddenly I slipped and started tumbling down this mountain. It was all happening so fast all I could remember was seeing the ground one second and then seeing the sky the next, and wondering when I would stop. Finally I stopped, and I was lucky. I had lost somebrenke2 of my food and bit my lower lip, but otherwise was fine; just a little pissed though!

The fear of combat happening at any time, being 9,000 miles from home and being wet most of the time, picking leaches off oneself, sleeping in mud holes or against a tree, and shivering uncontrollably when wet and cold had quite a psychological effect on a young man. I remember one day while our squad was on a patrol and we had stopped for a short break, so I thought that this was a good a time as any to ask God some serious questions, particularly the How and Why questions. Well, I do believe to this day that the Holy Spirit paid me a brief visit. I can’t remember exactly any particular words being said to me; it was if there were words without hearing and receiving an understanding at the same time. There wasn’t an answer to a particular question, but within a few minutes, I walked away from that spot with a completely different and much improved attitude.

When we got back to our small overnight base, I believe I must have still had a smile on my face because someone gave me a look that was saying, “What the heck are you smiling about way out here?”

One cannot have been a member of Charlie Company under the command of CPT Mark (Zippo) Smith without expressing my gratitude and love for this man. His feel for his surroundings, his intuition and his great knowledge of infantry tactics, and his devotion to duty and his men is second to none. Most of us feel that we are alive today because of this man. What an honor and privilege it is to have served with Zippo. I know I can speak for all of us from Charlie Company when I say ‘thank you, sir’ for being there with us and for us. It was an honor to have served with you, and it still an honor and blessing to be with you again at our reunions.

One of the proudest moments of my life was when my son, who is a staff sergeant in the National Guard with a tour in the Sinai and Iraq, went to a Charlie Company reunion with me and met my former CO, Zippo. I wouldn’t trade my experience with Charlie Company for anything! Jerry Brenke Dubuque, Iowa Feb 7, 2010