Friday, July 06, 2018

Independence Day Blues ... Second Draft ... The Real Story

In the aftermath of Independence Day, my thoughts often veer toward a consideration of my role during the war in Viet Nam.

I was drafted, and that was no excuse.  I could have migrated to Canada, I could have refused to serve, I could have opted for a non-military role ... oh, no!  I couldn't.   I decided to serve my country, comforted by the  arrogance that I was competent to lead men into battle.

I went where I was told, did what I was told, and the world is a better place because I did my duty as an American.

Well ... perhaps not.  Allow me to tell the story of my failure to lead and to protect the men who bravely accepted my leadership and died as a result of it.

I worked hard at my new job.  I spent an entire year in training for it. 
Basic Training
Advanced Infantry Training
Non Commissioned Officer School

Not enough training; I accepted a slot in the Non-Commissioned Officer School at Fort McClellan, Ga; where I learned to be a Sergeant. 

I did good there; I worked hard, I wanted to learn EVERYTHING that would help me to be a good sergeant survive in combat.  I finished in the Top 5%, and after a short 3-month tour in an Basic Infantry Training Camp, I was sent to Viet Nam.

They made me a Staff Sergeant; equivalent to a Platoon Sergeant (top Non Commissioned Officer "NCO"  in a Platoon) ... a rank which is usually awarded to experienced NCO's ... but there were not a lot of surviving NCO's in Viet Nam, so they picked a bunch of guys who hadn't been in the army for more than a year to fill the slot. 

Yeah, like me. 

I was young, and even though I had to be DRAFTED into the army, they liked me for an "influential" role in the Army,'

But I was ill-qualified for the role; even though the Army could find nobody better.
Which leads to my question:

How did I get assigned this advanced  posting?

Three Reasons:

(1)  I was married (to my College Sweetheart ... a lovely lady that I dated all through my College career;  That proved that I was "responsible").

(2) I was a college graduate ... which proved that I was smart enough to make the correct decisions under stress (?)

(3) I was older than most of my fellow graduates from Basic Training ... 23 years ... again, I was considered to be "Responsible".

Sometimes you advance a draftee because of qualifications: sometimes it's just "Hope and Prey".

Too much of both; not enough of either.

So The Army, in all of its' Institutional Wisdom ... and hungry for "Senior" Non-Commissioned Officers, send me to NCO school and graduated me in the top 5% of the class ... because I knew how to answer their questions and otherwise to best suck up to the Army. (Do I sound as if I am denigrating the Army's selection process?  Good .. .you're paying attention!)  It helped that I was old and married.  As if!

I knew that I was not ready for being responsible for the well-being of a platoon of draftees destined for Viet Nam, who were not much more  mature than I was, but I accepted the promotion and my bride of six days got a larger "allowance" from the Army by virtue of my involuntary servitude.   Without demure, I accepted the promotion .. and the responsibility

Fast Forward to my actual tour in Viet Nam.  

I didn't get TOO many guys killed. 

Only one, actually: Private Mosher tripped a booby-trap.

I take small comfort in that the Platoon Leader., Lieutenant Dork, was in actual command at the time, and when he directed us to  use the same exit route back to base camp as we had used the previous patrol;  I could have protested; but we were operating in the vicinity of a "Friendly Village".   I thought it reasonable that nobody would expect us to take the same patrol exit as we had used the day before. 

I never expected the Viet Cong to be so up-to-date on American small-unit troop movements that they would successfully predict what we would do "the next day".  I was naive.   We wandered freely around the outskirts of a "friendly village" on Tuesday .. could Wednesday be any different?

( YES!)

My Failure To Appreciate The Circumstances Lost A Son.  

Private Mosher died of a buried booby-trap grenade that his Point Man had tripped over ... and while the Point Man (Private "Chief:) suffered no more than a few grenade fragments in his back-pack, Private Mosher caught a single grenade fragment in his heart and died on the spot, without taking another step.

Months later, after I returned to The Land of The Big PX, I wrote a letter to Mosher's parents.  I explained to them that he did not suffer, that he died almost immediately, and that he was surrounded by his friends who mourned his passage .. then, and again at his ceremony the next day when we returned with his violated body at the Company Base Camp.

Most of us wept.  He was our Borther, and we failed him. 

*_I_* failed him!

I later received a note from Mosher's parents; they were careful to thank both me and their son's platoon mates for the ceremony (photos of his Bayoneted rifle stuck in the ground with his helmet on top of the rifle) but I know they would very much have preferred to have their son back.

That would have been my preference as well.   But I walked him into the mine field and walked all but him back out.  I failed Private Mosher, and I failed my platoon.

WHICH IS WHY I sometimes refuse to take credit for my service as an American Infantryman, and Platoon Sergeant.  I wan't really good enough for the job.   I know in my heart that I did the best I could, given that it was impossible for the U.S. Army to train me well enough for the job.

But I accepted the job.  And I failed at it.

There really isn't any thing more to say.  Except that every Patriotic Day, I want to  ... I don't know .. "Want To Enjoy" the accolades of my fellow citizens.

Except for the Mosher family.

If they don't hate me .. they ought to.  I lost their son.

I'm glad that the rest of us found our way back to our loved ones, our family, our wives and sisters and sons. We have "issues", and every year the whole Veterans Day and Fourth of July and other holidays meant to give meaning to our "Service" are a welcome approbation to our year of loss, fear and fright. 

But .. Mosher.

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