(April 1970 to April 1971)

I had arrived in the company on or about April14th.  Upon joining the company straight from P training, I met "Chief " Hamil.  He had arrived shortly before I had that same day.  Chief was a 1st Infantry Division sniper with months of time in country, his CIB, and an M-14 sniper rifle.   I was quite impressed.  The first sergeant instructed Chief to assist me in setting up my rucksack.  Chief helped me greatly in setting up a ruck that seemed to me to be only a hundred pounds too heavy.  In Chief’s defense, he was, and still is a big, very strong Native American. I on the other hand was a hundred seventy five pound weakling acclimated to North American winter.  Next, "Top" Rollins brought me an M-16, a cleaning kit and two new front hand guards.  Saying, "clean this and put the new hand guards on it, you're going to the field in the morning." The new hand guards where necessary because the old ones were shot full of holes.  Not exactly a big confidence builder.  I would learn later what had happened on Firebase Granite and that weapons were policed up after that "God awful" fight.  Farther down the road, I would come to understand that there were simply not enough people in the rear to properly recondition or clean those weapons.  Every man available was in the field.  Top was running what should have been an eight or ten man show with probably three overworked men.

Chief needed some immediate dental work so he wasn't on the huey with me in the morning.  I thought I had had a nice ride in the helicopter, but was told that I had been shot at on the approach.  Again,  not a real confidence builder.  That day was my first exposure to what is called the 1,000 yard stare.  SSG Lockett got me settled in.  I was assigned to Sgt. R. E. Marks' squad where I met some of the men, most of whom had the stare (Granite veterans) and didn't want anything to do with me.  There were a few exceptions.  SP4 Dan "Crazy" Pierce wanted to get me squared away ASAP, and for some reason another speedy 4 named Kent Longmire, from another squad, chose to take me under his wing and provide the guidance I would need.
Whenever the topic of friendship comes up in my life I tell whoever I'm speaking with about the best friend I was blessed to have, for a few short days in Vietnam - Kenny Longmire.  At every opportunity Kenny would teach me something.  He improved my ruck, and my general attitude.  He was smart and a good soldier.  In the short time that I knew him he treated me like a kid brother.  He and SSG Lockett were confidence builders.  Kenny not only showed me things I would need to survive physically, he told me things that I would need to survive mentally.  The most chilling of which was, "People die here.”  If I or anyone else here should die tomorrow, the only thing you can think is better him than me."

I watched and listened and wanted to fit in and to learn from my mistakes, which were many.  The first time I was put on slack I was a total flop.  I didn't know that the slack man’s job was to be the point man’s eyes.  Kenny explained it to me.  SSG Lockett counseled me like a father.  The first time on point, I was tasked to break a trail down the side of a steep hill. I had not yet gained the ability to see forest - all I could see were the trees.  Again, I failed to get anything right.  Lockett counseled me, and Longmire explained it and showed me.  The next day, the twentieth, things appeared to have turned around.

My ruck had been lightened with the attrition of some canned goods and I was walking point on a real nice well traveled trail up a hill and was doing so well that my slack man, a young Hispanic soldier, whose name I do not recall, also new to the platoon, was ten yards behind me.  The remainder of the platoon was well behind him.  Being the world’s dumbest "Cherry," I thought I was doing good. Upon topping the hill I saw some little guys who did not look like us.  I emptied about three fourths of a magazine in their direction and went back down the trail I had just climbed and changed magazines.  SSG Lockett got the platoon on line and we swept the hilltop.  Pierce caught a glimpse, at a good distance, of four little people running down a trail that led away from the open cap of the hill, down the ridgeline.  They were gone too quickly for him to engage them with his thump gun.  The top of the hill was the apex of three trails.  The one I came up, one along the top of the ridge on which enemy had fled and one that lead down and to the next ridge line, facing, and overlooking the spot where our platoon leader, "the professor," had kept us for three days doing such things as burning re-supply trash.
There were two bunkers cut in to the top of the hill, one bunker facing the direction of the ascent trail, and one facing down the trail in the direction of our previous NDP.  The one facing the ascent trail had an American Claymore in front of its berm .  I fragged the first bunker and someone else fragged the second.  Our medic Doc Arsenault found a small amount of fresh blood.  We milled about on that site for twenty minutes or so.  I would learn later that the appropriate thing to do at that time would have been to request a few 105 rounds be walked down the escape trail, and then make a non direct RIF around the escape trail in the direction of the enemy withdrawal.  That didn't happen.

The professor told SSG Lockett to form up a patrol to follow the escaping enemy.  The team was picked and Sgt Marks put me on point; he wouldn't be going himself.  Kenny objected saying that we needed an experienced point man and said he would take it.  The order of march was Kenny (on point) and six others including SSG Lockett, his RTO, the Hispanic guy, who had walked my slack earlier, and me.  I would be "Drag," the last in line.  The remainder of the platoon would remain to blow the claymore in place and do what the guys "in the rear with the gear" do.

The patrol moved cautiously down the trail, perhaps three hundred yards.  The first five men disappeared around a "dog leg" in the trail and then all hell broke loose.  I estimate three AKs firing one magazine each (about ninety rounds) with the simultaneous detonation of an American claymore.  As abruptly as it had started, the firing stopped.  The man in front of me and I hadn't even gone to prone when SSgt Locket ran back to my location, the only thing he said was, "son of a bitch."  He fell dead at my feet.  He had been stitched with automatic rifle fire in the abdomen and chest.  The young Mexican-American and I were moving forward when an E-5 came hobbling back on the trail - he had been hit twice in one leg.  He told us that the radio had been destroyed and the machine gun had been dropped, and that Longmire was down.  He said that he would be all right and that we were to run back to the CP location and bring help.  He cautioned us that we should start yelling that we were "coming in" about halfway back.  He said that Longmire would need plasma, told us again, that he would be all right and to go and to hurry.  We followed his instructions.

We found the remainder of the platoon where we had left them, gave our report, and were instructed to lead the way back to the ambush site.  About halfway back SGT Marks, walking third, gave the command to recon by fire, left and right.  We did so.  Upon arriving at the spot where SSG Locket had fallen, we found three wounded men - the young SGT who had sent us for help, another man with leg wounds, and a young man I now believe to have been SSG Lockett’s RTO, "Calvin" Bryant.  He had taken two AK round in the front center of his "steel pot."  I later learned that the rounds had followed the curvature of his helmet and exited the rear, plowing two furrows in his scalp, from the top to the back of his head.  Doc Arsenault attended the wounded.  We moved forward around the "dog leg."

We came upon Kenny to the right of the trail about twenty-five to thirty yards from where I had been at the onset of the ambush.  He was alive but only barely.  He had apparently been in the primary kill zone of the claymore.  Men moved forward around me to secure the front.  All that I could do for my best friend was to offer any comfort I could.  We talked and he asked me to hold him up "so he could die like a man."  I lifted his torso, but he couldn't take it.  He told me he couldn't breathe and asked that I put him back down.  Kenny Longmire died there in the arms of someone who loved him.
The area was secured.  Medevacs took our wounded, to include the young man with the magic steel pot.  We carried Kenny and James Locket to a log bird for extraction.
What the records show and what actually happen are two different stories.  I was there; the "record writers" were not.  It could not have been a U shaped ambush.  It had to have been a linear ambush from the left side of the trail, because had it been a U shape from the front, I would have taken fire through the brush from my left and left oblique.  I took no fire.  And also, had Kenny, on point, been hit from the front, he would not have been so far off the trail to the right.  As far as fire and movement or maneuvering of troops goes, that didn't happen.  I do not believe there was any US fire that day other than the recon by fire and the ammo I expended during the first encounter.  The fact is we were bushwhacked by four of five guys who knew exactly what they were doing and did it well.

Reflections on some noteworthy soldier who served in the second platoon during my time in the woods:

When I got there, right after Granite, we had the severe misfortune of losing Longmire and Locket which turned out to be the straw that broke a lot of backs.  Many of the company old timers, several from my (second) platoon, reenlisted for the 30 day leaves and rear area jobs.  Replacements came slow.  We got several batches of new guys, who for the most part were excellent soldiers.

We got Corporal Danny Minor.  Danny had attended Army OCS dropping out in the last weeks because he did not consider the training he had received adequate in equipping him to lead men in combat.   Danny claimed to be the brother of Mike Minor who played the crop duster pilot on the T.V. show “Petticoat Junction.”   Whether he was pulling our legs is unknown to me, but he never produced any pictures.  Danny earned his nick name “One Shot” one afternoon while leading a “water RIF.”  A water RIF involves four to six men collecting the empty canteens from everyone at the patrol base and filling them at a nearby water feature.

The water RIF had been gone a short time when we, at the patrol base, heard a single rifle shot.  We all assumed it was the new guy who had earned the nick name “Sgt. Accidental Discharge.”  A rather clumsy, school trained E-5 who had a unique ability to make his sixteen go off without cause or need, at any given time.  In Charlie Company this was an absolute NO NO.  We silently chuckled and whispered, “Zippo’s gonna kill him.”  Then the radio crackled, the RTO with the RIF called in that he thought they were in contact.

The standing order from “the Boss” was, “if you make contact, shoot your guns Rookies.” (Zippos way of saying, achieve fire superiority).  What had happened was the point man, Danny, had sighted a lone NVA soldier, on our back trail, took a knee and put a single round through the enemies head.   Thereafter he was no longer Corporal Danny Minor, he was Danny “ONE SHOT” Minor, solid soldier, good man.

Soon, Danny was to team with another solid new guy Vince Gazzarra from New Jersey to become, in my opinion, the best point team second platoon had during my time in the woods.  It didn’t matter which man walked point when they were point and slack.  If one took a breath the other did not have to breathe, they were just that tight.  Individually they were excellent grunts and as a team they were lightning quick and laser accurate - totally reliable.

We had another Dan.  Dan Pierce was known to be naturally mean.  He may not have gotten to Vietnam as hard as he was when I first met him, but he took being in the field very seriously, having survived FSB Granite.  Early in my tour I saw Dan flatten a guy for falling asleep on guard.  The errant soldier pulled a bowie knife, and Dan cooled the situation down instantly by flipping his M 79 shut and pointing it at the man’s midsection.  Before decking the guy, Dan had loaded a canister round.  The knife was sheathed and the argument was over.  The knife fighter soon disappeared from our ranks, probably re-upped.  Pierce didn’t have a lot of friends - people called him “Crazy Pierce.”   That was until the shit hit the fan.  When that happened “Crazy” was welcomed in all social circles. 
Dan Pierce could lay down accurate thumper fire faster than most two men.  He left the platoon for parts unknown sometime in early summer.  I liked “Crazy Pierce” just fine, but not as much as my soon to be good friend “Gabby Garnos.”  Gabby held Pierce in awe.

Bill “Gabby Garnos” of Beverly, Mass was another of the new guys who showed up and acclimated quickly.  At the departure of Pierce, “Gabby” secured Pierce’s M 79, exchanging his M-16.  “Gabby” wore a floppy old hat that resembled that worn by the 50’s cowboy side kick, “Gabby” Hayes.   Bill started as a rifleman, moved to grenadier, and finally became the platoon RTO.   He was adept at “running fire fights.”  That means he had a good knowledge of what was available for support and was expert at employing all assets available.  He could call in all varieties of fire support effectively.

We were blessed with some fine young school trained NCO’s - one that comes to mind is Theodore Neal.  In the narrative about August 17,th he is called Ted Neal.  Nobody ever called him Ted.  When I asked him what he was called his answer was “Flip” and it was easy to understand the rationale - he looked like the comedian, Flip Wilson.  Flip was built like an upside down spark plug and was a solid soldier and competent squad leader from day one.  From Danville, VA,  Flip was quietly entertaining and expert at keeping morale at its peak.  Men would do anything he asked, because he would not ask anything that he would not do himself.

Any reference to solid soldiers in second platoon C /1/506 during the summer and fall of 1970 would be incomplete unless Tom Koland is included.  Tom was a California boy.  That could be known immediately upon meeting him.  Blonde, suntanned, and completely laid back, his entire being was stereotypically Californian. 
When a new guy, of reasonable size and strength would enter the group he was invariably picked to carry the 23 pound M-60.  Tom was that guy and unlike most new guys, he liked it.  He became the undisputed machine gun virtuoso of second platoon. 
When a 60 gun failed, the cause of the failure was usually one of two things.  Either the ammo was dirty or the buffer group in the butt of the gun was dirty.  Tom’s gun never failed.  There was a time we were relaxing on a fire base prior to walking off for the next mission.  Some rear area type officer saw Tom lounging on his ruck and made a comment about Tom’s gun.  He felt that Tom’s starter belt was dirty and that the M-60 would not fire.  Tom held his tongue and simply stood up and unleashed a fifty round burst (his entire starter belt) into a trash pile 25 yards to his front, then quietly sat back down.  The red faced officer turned and left without a word.

There were many other good men in the second platoon and many outstanding soldiers throughout the company during my time in the woods.  In mentioning these seven, I mean no disrespect to anyone not listed above.  I choose these guys because if I were to ever have to pick up my aid bag and go back to war, these are the guys I would want on my left and on my right.

Platoon Leaders:  After “Zippo had fired “the Professor,” second platoon worked with temporary leadership provided by our generic NCO’s until 2nd Lt. George “Peanuts” Wooldridge arrived.  “Peanuts” was a likeable guy who was transferred to us from the base security detachment on Camp Evans.  It seems that “Peanuts” had fallen from favor with the “Higher Higher” of the bunker guards because of some prank he had pulled.  He was a prankster.  In the story told about the “Law kickout,” “Peanuts” was the individual who had been wounded and was “medevac’d.”  I know this for a factas I put him on the penetrator.  His wound was minor and I didn’t learn till recently that Captain Smith had quietly encouraged him to seek another job.  Zippo explained that “he didn’t have time to train young Lieutenants.”   The next and last O type platoon leaders during my time was an artillery trained LT, Donald “Duck” Muller.  “Duck” was another young 2nd Lieutenant.  He was eager to learn and was very fortunate to have Bill Garnos as his platoon RTO.  Bill and I worked with the “Duck,” teaching him about life in the woods.  Duck’s biggest shortcoming was his inability to determine his location on a map.  This could be fatal when calling in artillery, so “Gabby” kept a close watch on his new LT, as best he could.

Not all “slackers” were so easily seen or dealt with.  I remember a well thought of school trained NCO who just prior to “Zippos” scheduled DEROS date instructed his wife to send him a letter claiming she was in the process of divorcing him.  The NCO presented the letter to CPT Smith who gave the man an immediate thirty day compassionate leave so that he could go home and persuade his wife to reconsider.  The man took his thirty days, remained AWOL for twenty-nine more, prior to turning himself in at a local army base in the states.  Had he stayed AWOL for one more day he would have been considered a deserter.   He was put on a plane and sent back to Northern I Corps to rejoin C Company.   It was then mid December.  This man visited me at the Aid Station of the 1/506th asking for a “buddy letter,” to help him gain an award that had fallen through the cracks.  After hearing his tale of the proceeding two months, I wrote no “buddy letter.”