If it’s Veterans Day: “Don’t Thank me for my service”
Basic Training Graduation Photo: Ft. Bliss Texas Drill Sgt’s Annus (on left) Drill Sgt Semko (on right) You never forget the names of your Basic Training NCO’s.
I joined the Army in 1969. The Army has a battery of tests to figure out how to best use a new recruit. One of the questions was: “Which would you rather do? Go to the Opera? OR Go camp out in Yellowstone National Park?
Of course, I answered the Campout!! “Yep.., He’s infantry material.“ I finished at the top of my class in Basic Training. And the Top 2 % Army Wide in Infantry training. I took Basic at Ft. Bliss –went to Infantry School at Ft. Lewis and Scout Dog Handler training at Ft. Benning. I landed in the 101st Airborne Division (I Corps) Vietnam 70-71. Vietnam was a defining experience for those of us who went, I”m glad I did. Combat Infantry. At the Tip of the Spear. It does not get any better.
Scout Dog Teams walked “Point‘ on Infantry jungle patrols. The “mission” of the Scout Dog team is to provide “Early Silent Warning” of booby traps, ambush, cache’s of weapons, and evidence of enemy activity. The “Point” Man and his Scout Dog, (worked off leash) followed closely by the “slack” man. The “slack” position is filled by an experienced soldier to “backup” the “Point” team. NO CHERRIES! –My unit only had 3 CAR-15‘s (CAR-15 with shorter/telescoping stock ). CAR-15’s were issued to the 3 senior field opns soldiers in my unit. I didn’t get a CAR-15 until sometime in early spring of 71. — Photo above with M-16. I carried 23 magazines…. 2 (7) magazine OD green cotton cloth bandoliers across my chest. 2 Magazines on the weapon itself. (Taped in Reverse for rapid reload) 4 in a Pistol belt pouch on my right side — and 3 in an outer pouch of my Rucksack.– Carrying grenades was optional. My first few months in the field I carried 4 — I loosened the pin — which was hard as hell to first-time pull –– but I taped the spoon down so I had to remove the tape first. You only get one chance with a grenade. Improper pin removal, stance or throwing method could be fatal.— The Jungle is too thick and lots of stuff grabs onto you. I didn’t want to chance any detonation. — with the M-26. I eventually dropped to carrying 2 grenades. I always started a mission with 18 quarts of water. That’s 2 lbs per quart =36 lbs of water alone Dogs dehydrate way faster than a Man. A Dog Handler couldn’t be sure his mission would be near the bountiful jungle streams. I always max- loaded water as if we would not be near a natural water source. In our AO (area of operation) there were many streams that fed the rivers., The Song Bo River out near the Ashau Valley was magnificent.
My unit was the 42nd Infantry Platoon Scout Dog / 101St Airborne Division)
Double Click or ZOOM in on the Chopper Photo above. You’ll see my Scout Dog “Argo” his head over my leg. He loved to watch the ground as we flew. Sometimes his saliva would blow back on the door gunner! They would always laugh! We “Argo” and I walked “Point” in the Jungle. I live today because of that small ( 58 lb. Shepard) Best pure “Combat Dog” ever
Among the most coveted awards in the US Army.
The Bronze Star. No Handshake. No Ceremony.
Above: Brushing Down “Argo”. My first Dog “Rocky” got sick. Argo didn’t have a handler at the time. The Platoon Sgt. told me to try him out. “Argo” had been in-country for at least 2 years when I got him. He wasn’t a “playful” dog. Which was good in the bush. He was all business in the field.
Above: I took a 5 day R&R in -country at China Beach. The waves were great. We surfed all day then at night we got blasted and listened to a Vietnamese band play American Rock songs. They were awful musicians. We didn’t care!
Some years later in 1985, I was working on a political story on Capitol Hill. The news desk editor called and told me that members of my old division had been in an airplane crash in Gander, Newfoundland. He asked if I wanted to go to Ft. Campbell for the Memorial service. (As if there was any question?? Of course!) He said, “yes we figured you would want to go”. The soldiers, most of them from the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, crashed shortly after taking off from a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. All 248 soldiers and the plane’s eight crew members were killed.
The eve of the invasion, June 5th, 1944 General Eisenhower met with troops of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. (1 min. You Tube Video Here) 25 years later, I was privileged to work with the “Oh-Deuce” in the jungles of Vietnam.
The Memorial Service was on Dec. 15/16 1985. It was bitter cold that day. In the 20’s with 9-10 mph winds. (I looked it up!) The division was formed on the parade field for hours. And we in the press stayed in the stands for hours. Above: A 105mm howitzer was fired every 5 minutes, marking the loss of one soldier.Steeped in history, it is an honor to have been a “Screaming Eagle” of the 101st Airborne Division.
Above: Veterans Park in Palestine, Texas. A brick with my name/unit and dates of service embedded here. 1994. My mom took pride in her son’s military service.
Above: Professionally I returned to Vietnam in 1995. We shot a documentary at the 20-year point of the war’s end. It was an amazing trip. We traveled the entire country. Photo. Above: –POW/MIA recovery dig near Haiphong in the north
Above: The statue of now Senator John S. McCain, where he was captured as his parachute dropped him in Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi.
Young Vietnamese Men in Hue. The photo, their expressions, their posture all tell the story of modern Vietnam. (mew photo: March 24, 1995)
I shot this photo of General Vo Nguyen Giap on March 24, 1995. It was pouring rain and he was under a reviewing stand roof. I was in the rain and I could not believe my good fortune. Security allowed me within about 20 feet of the General and the Politburo Boss seated next to him. Many historians regard Giap as one of the most important Military strategists of the 20th century. I knew that as I pressed the shutter of my Point n Shoot camera. I had read Bernard Fall’s “Hell in a Very Small Place: The Seige of Dien Bien Phu” in college. He was a hugely important military figure in the lives of all of us who went to Vietnam.