Veterans Day Memories
"Captain Hamilton!" barked Major General ’Jumpin’ Jack’ Norton. "You still wannabe a rifle company commander?" "Yes sir!" "Grab your weapon. By sundown, you’ll likely be a company commander in the Second Battle of the Ia Drang."
Newly arrived in Vietnam, I had yet to be issued jungle boots. Fortunately, II Corps Headquarters (forward) was nearby. The late Bobby G. Porter, a friend from Ft. Benning, was in charge over there. Bobby took off his jungle boots and gave them to me, leaving Bobby in his stocking feet. I never saw him again. Bobby retired as a lieutenant general.
After flying us through torrential rain, General Norton dropped me off near the base of Hill 534 of the Chu Pong Massif where I met Captain Richard N. McInerney, headquarters company commander for the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry. We huddled under a make-shift shelter. Dick was eating a C-ration with a white plastic spoon. "Hungry?" asked Dick, as he handed me the spoon we shared back-and-forth until the can was empty. Friends, forever. Later, another Huey dropped me off up on the side of Hill 534 to take over from a fallen rifle company commander and to rescue a platoon surrounded by the North Vietnamese.
Then, it was six months of doing combat air assaults and patrolling along the Cambodian border. We never suffered a KIA out in the jungle, a few wounded. But, back at base camp, the 2d Brigade operations officer, a major who thought he knew more than our troops, selected my 1/4-ton Jeep to lead a supply convoy. Proven practice was to lead convoys with a sand-bagged five-ton truck. The major would not listen to my enlisted men who pleaded for the proven procedures to be followed. PFC Johnny M. Hairston, our supply clerk, was killed when my jeep, leading the convoy, ran over an improvised explosive device (IED).
Six months later, I turned over command to Dick McInerney who, a few months later, was killed in a fire fight. Dick earned the Silver Star. 1SGT Mel Rand was seriously wounded. At the Vietnam Wall, I always do pencil rubbings of the names of Dick and Johnny, plus one more:
Four years earlier, in West Germany, my neighbor was then Lt. Commander George K. Farris, a naval aviator on shore duty in Frankfurt. Sometimes, as a member of the 513th Intelligence Corps Group, I needed "covert" transportation at night to European parts best left unknown. George would fly me in a U.S. Army DeHavilland "Beaver" (U-6A). We became close friends. In 1966, when George was flying missions off of the USS Oriskany, a fire killed George and 43 others. Along with Dick’s and Johnny’s, I do pencil rubbings of George’s name and think of his widow and their two children.
So, when millionaire NFL players, who never served in uniform, disrespect our National Anthem and our Flag, I think about Dick, Johnny, and George. The sight of a white plastic spoon, just seeing a Jeep, or watching a back-country "Beaver" in flight -- all of those things -- bring back a flood of memories of some really fine men who deserve our respect, forever and ever. Even at NFL football games.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the Army Language School, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
©2016. William Hamilton.
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