Friday, May 27, 2011

Diary Entry 95: Saigon, Friday Night, 26 November 1965

                                                                  Friday Night, 26 November 1965

The patient is going to live after all!  The swelling has now gone down to about half its former size and gives every indication of being back to normal facial size tomorrow or the next day.  The doctor examined the stitches and the tissues early this morning and happily sent me back to duty. I sure was glad to go, too! Next Monday I go back to have the stitches removed and that should be the end of it. Hope so anyway. It isn’t any fun to be sick here as there is no one to take care of you. Just kinda have to endure.

Made it back to work just in time to get involved in all the flaps associated with the forthcoming visit of one of our distinguished guests [Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara]. Everybody was jumping through hoops all day today getting fact sheets, staff studies, position papers, and all that kind of stuff ready. We’ll have more of it to do tomorrow and Sunday; we’ve already been warned of that. It is a good thing that I got some rest and sleep with my toothache to face up to the long hours ahead until he leaves.

Ate my first good meal in several days after work tonight, but had to be choosy what was ordered. Had banana salad, corn chowder soup, scrambled eggs, and a soft roll. Also ice cream with chocolate syrup. Very delicious. I was so hungry. For lunch today I only had two doughnuts and a can of chocolate milk at my desk as noon was about the time all the panic hit on preparation of papers and I prepared a position paper during the noon hour to meet a 3 p.m. deadline. Like trying to write a history of the Civil War in 2 hours. It’s a nerve-wracking experience which drains you because of the pressures involved.

For breakfast this morning had a glass of orange juice and a glass of ice water. Guess the menu today was not glamorous, but I’m glad to be able to eat something again.

Grady has still not come back in spite of what one of his subordinates told me last week. Am still skeptical as the DB [duty board] announced that he was cleared from the command.  We should know one way or the other in the next week. If he does not return within a week, he’ll either be AWOL or on the way back to the States.

Grady’s boss, a Colonel [George] McCutcheon, died of natural causes in his bed at the Rex the other night. Had a hemorrhage. Grady will hate to hear about it as he thought lots of the man.

Colonel George McCutcheon, U.S. Army, Chief, Counterintelligence Branch, MACV J-2, 1964-1965. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

For the past few minutes my mind has been wandering as I listened to the radio. The radio is the most important mechanical device to have over here. It keeps you in touch with the rest of the world---kind of a link with the civilization you just left. You can listen to records, news, and sports---things about the USA. I don’t miss TV too much, but I would miss my radio very much if it were taken away. Back in the Korean War, I don’t recall listening to a radio more than 10 or 15 times. Don’t recall missing it too much at the time.

It was kind of a funny incident [during the Korean War] when my platoon acquired our first radio for commercial listening. The incident occurred in January or February 1951 when the Eighth Army under General Ridgway embarked on Operation KILLER after several months of fighting and falling back. We were on the offensive again.

Moving north up the Tanyang Valley to seize the city of Wonju and its strategic center of road networks, "L" Company led the [187th Airborne Infantry] Regiment and my platoon was the point of the advance guard, or the leading Infantry element of our task force. 

We were preceded by 4 light tanks from the combat support company as the main axis of advance was the primary road leading to Wonju from the south.  As the column moved out of the low hills into the open valley approach to Wonju, rifle, machine gun, and recoilless rifle fire concentrated on the tanks about 200 yards to our front. 

One of the tanks took off to a rice paddy to its right and immediately became bogged down in the muck, disabled and a victim of the hot 57mm anti-tank fire. Our platoon was able to place suppressing fire on the enemy and we sent a squad of Infantry to ring and protect the tank until the tank crew could drop out of the escape hatches in the floor and scamper to safety, covered by the protective fire of the Infantry.

When the squad regrouped with the platoon, I noticed one man missing and presumed him dead or wounded. We went on to Wonju that afternoon and after occupying positions that night north of the city, my missing soldier turned up, complete with a PRC-9 radio capable of reaching out all the way to New York or Paris or London or Moscow to pick up any commercial radio station transmitting. It is a military radio which also can tune in on civilian stations. The guy had the nerve to enter the tank after the crew dismounted and ran away and he removed the radio, all the time being rocked around by 57mm fire from the North Koreans. The radio weighs about 40 lbs. and he carried it all the way to Wonju in addition to his pack of about 40 lbs. Reckon that fellow must have liked music pretty much to have done that.

A PRC-9 military short-wave radio similar to the radio Clark described above.

Naturally, the combat support company salvaged the tank when they passed through and the area had been secured. The company commander was much put out because someone stole his radio. He made lots of noise and we only enjoyed listening to the music a couple of days before the threat of court-martial against the thieves caused me to turn it in to the rightful owners.

I wonder if young men are still as carefree and careless as the young soldier who risked almost certain injury or death to liberate a radio from the tankers. Bet they still do crazy things like that.

The fighting this time is so close to me yet so far away that I never see things like the incident described. I can stand on a porch over one of the main streets of Saigon and watch the flares, the artillery flashes, and hear the noise---not know what is going on really as I did in the Korean War, and yet know all that is going on.

The difference in my world and theirs is close, yet very distant. Now I’ve watched war from the bottom level of a scared second lieutenant with a rifle platoon, unsure of what I should do and when it should be done, to an assured staff officer at the highest headquarters who knows every move to be made and the strategic reasons behind it. High or low position, war is not a good thing. But I don’t know how to stop it. It has been man’s nature to war from the independent caveman to the sophisticated societies of today. I guess it always will be.

No comments:

Post a Comment