I’ve been reading Vietnam magazine for several years. This is my first letter. The October 2012 account of the brave men in the article “Last Stand at Landing Zone Hereford” is excellent, one of the best articles I’ve read. The story of that day and what happened in that hour was touching. I read it several times. That’s a story that would make a great movie.
Michael A. Terzian
I am currently reading the book The Boys of ’67 by Andrew Wiest, which was excerpted in the December issue, and came across the following: “In a scenario startling in its uniqueness, the leaders of the 9th Infantry were tasked with taking their charges through all levels of training, from basic individual to advanced unit training and then taking that same unit into a year of battle in Vietnam.” Further on in the same paragraph, Wiest writes: “…forging a common brotherhood of war unique in the Vietnam era.”
This scenario may have been unique on a division level, but it was not unique in the Vietnam era. I say this because I was with both the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and the 9th Infantry Division. The 196th Light Infantry Brigade was activated in September 1965 at Fort Devens, Mass. Prior to its activation, personnel from various units, both stateside and in Europe, were transferred to the brigade, forming its core of officers and NCOs under the command of Colonel Francis S. Conaty Jr. These same officers and NCOs received raw recruits from the draft and enlistments, took them from basic training through advanced unit training, transported them to Vietnam from Boston Harbor in two ships (Patch and Darby) and fought with these “trainees” from August 14, 1966, to July of 1967. As far as forging a common brotherhood of war in the Vietnam era as described in The Boys of ’67, those of us with the 196th also formed that selfsame brotherhood, just earlier.
Keeping a Pledge
I closed the circle, as I said I would in the December article I wrote about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection. I left a plastic-encased copy of “Capturing the Embassy Sapper” (Vietnam, February 2012), my story about the photographs I shot on January 31, 1968, along with a short note and my business card, at the section of The Wall that bears the name of my buddy Spc. 4 Mark Lofaro, an Army photographer who was killed during the opening moments of Tet.
While serving in Vietnam in the summer of 1968 with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division, I captured a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldier during a firefight. Because of this, I got to go anywhere I wanted on R&R, and I chose Australia. My friend Pfc John Emory Miles took my place as M79 man in our company. John was the last man left in his family, so he could have gotten out of the bush for the rest of his tour.We kept telling him to go back to the world, but his mind was set on staying in Vietnam.When I came back from R&R, I got the news that John’s squad was on an ambush near Con Thien on July 2 when they got hit by a platoon of NVA. Four men in the 3rd Squad died and John was one of them, killed in the first attack. My squad leader, John Stanley, told me that he knew I would have been shooting like hell, like John did. Even though my Marine buddies told me it wasn’t my fault, to this day I feel guilty: If he hadn’t taken my place that week, he would still be alive. John Miles was a good friend and I think of him a lot.
A Homefront Flashback
I had a Twilight Zone moment when I saw the 1966 Coppertone advertisement in the August “Homefront.” The model on the surfboard was Sharon Tate. Three years later, in the hills above Los Angeles, Tate and four others would be murdered by Charles Manson and members of his “family.” It was a grim reminder that an untimely death, and ruthless brutality, can be encountered at home as well as on the battlefield.
Surfing to Apocalypse, Now
Some time ago I was asked by some retired members of Rifle Company D, 5th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) about a summer 1967 event and a similar scene portrayed in the movie Apocalypse Now. In July and August 1967 our rifle company had security of the Bong Son bridges. During this time, one of our platoon leaders built a surfboard that he tied to a raft that belonged to an engineer river raft unit attached to our company. The lieutenant then“surfed”up and down the river on the board, to the amazement of all who saw it. The 1979 movie features a scene in which the 1st Cavalry commander and a soldier who was surfer as a civilian decided to go surfing. I was just wondering if our incident in 1967 might have been the inspiration for the movie scene. And does anyone recall who our surfing lieutenant was?
Thomas J. Smith
Degrees of Danger in Dispute
After reading the (June) review of Meredith Lair’s book Armed With Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War, I reread the book. While reviewer Marc Leepson cannot dispute the volume of data cited from official military records, he takes umbrage at the assertion that support troops were out of danger during their tours. He concludes that Lair performed an“egregious mischaracterization…a giant misstep and a disservice.” But Lair nowhere states that support troops were totally out of danger. Does Mr. Leepson equate living in tents, eating C-rats, taking cold showers and crapping in cans with having to face sniper fire, punjis and ambushes? While I will not say my two tours as an infantryman and LRRP were more important than the tours of those serving in a support capacity, I will say they were more dangerous.
Ronald L. Moren
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.