Inside “The Cold War”– Awesome reads!

A fiery Peace. Neil Sheehan

It seems so yesterday to reach back to “near-history”…the Cold War.  It’s over. Why read about it?  What could possibly matter?  We could easily slip into a Nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula?  Isn’t this a big waste of time?

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

Reading  Neil Sheehan is never a waste of time. No matter the topic.  What I can say, is that I have never read a non-fiction author more powerful, more stimulating than Neil Sheehan.

His Vietnam Tome:bright Shining Lie

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. by  Neil Sheehan

It is a mesmerizing read about the single most important conflict of our lives. That is the lives of “baby-boomers”.   Sheehan won a Pulitzer Prize for “A Bright and Shining Lie” And his reporting on the “Pentagon Papers” won the NY Times a “Pulitzer for public service”.

Relevant to Sheehan’s “Cold War” topic.  ”

LeMay

 “The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay”

 Both General LeMay and Thomas Reed played major roles in the Cold War. These are thoughtful books. And a look inside the “Cold War” that most civilians never saw. Air Force Vets should read about LeMay. He probably killed more people than any single military officer in history. And as the first head of SAC, he continued to make history yet again.
Get off the radio for a while. Read and enjoy.

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.

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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.

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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 “back-up” 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.

img_0328  ( My unit was the 42nd Infantry Platoon Scout Dog / 101St Airborne Division)

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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 Combat Infantry Badgeimg_0271cib-1-1

The Bronze Star.  No Handshake. No Ceremony.

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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.

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Below:   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!

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Below:  Veterans Park in Palestine, Tx.  A brick with my name/unit and dates of service embedded here. 1994.  My Mom took great pride in showing  her son was a Combat Vet.

Vietnam Park in Palestine Tx

BELOW: 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. Below –POW/MIA recovery dig near Haiphong in the north.

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The series won 2 Regional Emmy awards in 1995.

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A War story……..

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You are 20 years old, Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, seated in the open 101 Eagledoor of a Huey helicopter launched on a CA (Combat Assault by Air)— There are five other Soldiers seated on the floor of the ship with you. Helmeted/Sun Visored Door gunners man M-60 machine gun’s on the left and right rear of the cabin.  There are five other Huey’s to put your platoon into the bush. You are on the third aircraft as they fly in a line. Your Mission:  Go Kill the enemy in the Jungle of  Vietnam near the Ashau Valley. Flight time about 15 minutes.

The beauty of the Jungle stretches to the horizon. A hot wind blows in your face as the ship flies at 100 knots skimming the tree tops. Looking out forward you see F-4′ (Fighter IMG_0308Bombers) pounding the hill you are going to land on in about 2 minutes.  There may be Dinks( the term US GI’s used ) on that hill., There may not be.  That last 2 minutes in the air, is the definition of anxiety.  As the Helicopter approaches the hilltop to land  the pilot flares the ship ( to “flare” a Helicopter the pilot puts the nose of the chopper up and reduces speed quickly and gently brings the descending aircraft to a hover at anywhere from  2-8 feet above the ground in the ideal.)

I always preferred to be first off the ship from about 4-6 feet.  Remember the infantry soldiers are carrying rucksacks on their back weighing anywhere from 30-50 pounds. This does not include weapons and ammo.   And it is during that final approach, the flaring of the aircraft, that’s when you learn all pilots are not equal.  There may be smoke or even fire on the LZ ( the Landing Zone),  maybe a couple of  Cobras on station (Helicopter Gun Ships) —-The Door Gunners on your ship, swivel their weapons, watching the LZ closely as the descent begins.  If you have an experienced combat pilot he’s going to come in fast, flare and drop you from 4-6 feet off the ground.  He did his part (getting you in fast and close to the ground ) — Now you (Grunts) do your partGet the Fuck out of the ship! –  (Where is the rest of the unit? In the near tree line? In that clump of Elephant grass ? Were you paying attention to the ground as you came in? Did you see how the first 2 Choppers went in?).  Again I prefer to be in the open door if not on the skid as my launch point to disembark.  Get a Nod from the crew chief if you want to stand on the skid during approach.  In the open door, you will be able to gauge how the  Pilot brings the ship in and leap to the ground — (There is an art to this, too long to go into here– ) It is at this moment when you jump to the ground that is an inexplicable high!! …..Once hitting the ground, the roar of the ship is deafening as the rest of the team exits the Chopper.   There is now a  partial sense of relief...” Well, I’m on the ground and no one is shooting at me yet”. As you run to join the rest of the platoon, the tremendous aircraft engine noise fades away as the last ship in departs the LZ.  Suddenly it’s very quiet.  Listen! If there is No small arms fire that is a good sign!!…… the Pink Team or an O-2 may still be on station, but your immediate environment is now quieter and easier to interpret. One key to staying alive in the jungle is noise discipline. Don’t make unnecessary noise! Communicate by whisper or hand signal. Once the platoon Sergeant has the unit organized, we move out   Going who knows where….  In my experience, the majority of CA’s were not met with enemy resistance. Thankfully!  Yet that last 2 minutes on the ship and the first couple of minutes on the ground are the most fun, exciting, gut-wrenching and stimulating time of your short life.    Professionally I was a Network level TV  News cameraman for 20 years. —–  but nothing in my life experience, ever matched the RUSH of going in on a Helicopter CA in a Slick as a member of an Infantry unit.  Believe it or not…. it could be addictive.  I’ll never forget it,  

Air MedalMany in the infantry received the Blue and Orange ribbonAir” Medal awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.”.     I remember when my Platoon Sgt. handed me my orders as a recipient of the Air Medal. No Ceremony. No Handshake. Just “here you go.  When I look at my framed Air Medal hanging on a wall in my home, it is that last 2 minutes Inbound on the chopper that comes back to me.  The whap-whap-whap of the Huey, the hot air in my face, the sound of the fighter-bombers, the stomach in knots, and the leap to the ground….

I remember it all, even now as an old man…..

Mike Whatley / 101st Airborne Division / I Corps Vietnam. 70-71.

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Double Click to Zoom In.  Mike Whatley and Scout Dog( His head on my leg) taking off from Camp Eagle headed to the “Bush”. Spring 1971.