dress in homecoming season with black color

52 years ago, 24 February 1966, I was a sergeant, assigned to Detachment A-412 (Camp Cai Cai), 5th Special Forces Group, on the Cambodian border, in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, having arrived the day before. I had just returned from my first combat operation.
Brave rifles, veterans, you have been baptized in fire and blood and have come out steel. —General Winfield Scott, 1812.
I had earned my CIB (Combat Infantry Badge), and could now wear it on my dress uniform as a badge of distinction. The CIB had been established in 1943. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle followed our troops in World War II, both in the European and Pacific fronts. He totally respected the frontline troops, with whom he spent almost all his time, living in foxholes with them and wearing his helmet. He even went on patrols with them. He suggested that a special award be given, only to combat infantrymen. And so it came to be.
Ernie died at the hands of Japanese machine gunner in the Pacific Theater. The award was much larger than the ribbons military men wore on their dress uniforms. It was about 3 inches long and one inch tall. The award depicted a musket rifle on a white bordered rectangular blue background. Behind the depiction was an oval wreath. The award was worn above all other awards and decorations, including medals for heroic actions. If a star existed on the top portion of the wreath, it signified that the wearer had fought in two wars. Two stars signified he had fought in three.
During the Vietnam War it was very rare to see two stars. I only knew two men to have qualified for two stars, my Team Sergeant in Ethiopia, MSG Lewis Dexter, and one of my team sergeants in a later camp, Vinh Gia, SFC Claude Blalock. Army Regulation 600-8-22 described the requirements for the award of the CIB, reading, in part: “ . . . an Army enlisted soldier or warrant officer with an infantry or special forces MOS, who . . . has satisfactorily performed duty while assigned or attached as a member of an infantry, ranger, or special forces unit . . . during any period such unit was engaged in active ground combat. . . A recipient must be personally present and under hostile fire while serving in an assigned infantry or special forces primary duty, in a unit actively engaged in ground combat with the enemy.” There was a similar looking award that had no wreath. It was the Expert Infantryman Badge. It required passing a test of infantry tactics, etc. For that award, no combat experience was required. dress in homecoming season with black color
As soon as we returned from the patrol, we gathered together for an after-action briefing. We went over all the details of the patrol with CPT Donker (CO), MSG Kerr (Operations Sergeant), and SFC Allard (Intelligence Sergeant). We first gave each of our impressions of what happened during the patrol, and our actions. Then we were asked questions by Donker, Kerr, and Allard. We had been involved in three fire fights during that patrol (the first one for me), one of which was a poorly executed, hastily set up, VC ambush, the other two being unplanned enemy contacts.
After taking care of business with the after-action meeting, we were able to finally relax, and unwind. The after-action briefings were held after each patrol we went on whether, or not, there was enemy contact. Before being involved in that first fire fight (especially before arriving in Vietnam), I wondered how I would react to my first instance under fire.
I think most military personnel, facing that scenario, wonders if they will be paralyzed by fear, cringe in terror, unable to react, or react properly, like a warrior should. Training is an indicator, but there is nothing like the real thing to test a person. There is nothing I can think of that is as challenging and intense, as being in a firefight with the enemy. When in combat you forget everything that might trouble you on a normal day. The mind and body is completely focused on the matter at hand.
At the end of the day I felt a little nervous, upon realizing what I had been through, and how close I had come to “buying the farm.” I felt, however, that it was a healthy nervousness. I always trusted my fellow SF team members. Between that, and the excellent training I had received over the years, I didn’t have any “fear,” to speak of, only a healthy knowledge that I was in a dangerous situation. In fact, my feelings almost bordered on invincibility. We had kicked ass! It was a proud feeling, and it’s what drives men in dangerous situations.
After returning to camp I felt a let-down in adrenaline and a little emotional about what had happened. As far as I can remember, I never really felt fear during a combat situation; only after the fact, while back in camp, reviewing the action. I was shaking a little, thinking back on the action I had just experienced. I didn’t, however, let it bother me or scare me. I knew I was good to go. The experience altered my life, in that I became supremely confident.
I also learned that our Army issued insect repellent sucked. When I sweated (which was almost constant in Vietnam), the forehead sweat would combine with the repellent, running down into my eyes. That stung my eyes and blurred my vision for periods of time. Not good!
During my time in Vietnam, almost all the combat I was involved in was the result of chance encounters, ones which were not planned, but usually involved on the average of about fifteen minutes of intense, violent combat, broken off by the outnumbered force quickly withdrawing. The outnumbered (or that with the least firepower) side was normally the Viet Cong. They very rarely stood their ground, continuing to fight. They preferred to strike quickly, then melt into the countryside. In the Cai Cai operational area, they mostly retreated across the border into Cambodia, where we were not permitted to pursue them due to Cambodia’s “neutrality.” Most of the time, as the VC withdrew into Cambodia, they received covering fire from the “neutral” Cambodian outpost.
Most of the houses in the rural areas of the Mekong Delta were small structures that had woven bamboo walls and thatch roofs. It was very easy to realize when you were nearing a village. The smell of nuoc mam (pronounced “nook mom”) was intense, becaming stronger as you neared the village. Nuoc mam was a Vietnamese village staple, a liquid rendered from decaying fish. During a lull in the fighting I had my first Vietnamese food for lunch, offered by some villagers. It consisted of sucking the raw embryo out of a duck egg, some rice, boiled duck and nuoc mam. It smelled rotten, but tasted okay.
The day ended with us capturing a couple of VC and quite a bit of equipment. I also blew up a VC tunnel. We had three casualties (all CIDG). Only one casualty was from gunfire. The other two were from mines. Mines were a major problem in our operational area. They were all over the place. Most of them were “leg-poppers.” There were also a few “foot-poppers.”
A study found that most American casualties occurred during the first and last month of a soldier’s deployment in Vietnam. Of course, to be truthful about it, I guess you could say EVERY American fatality occurred on the last day or two of a soldier’s time in Vietnam. It’s a case of semantics. The skewed casualty figures were due to the soldier’s inexperience for the first month and cockiness for the last month. After a long time in country, it’s possible to think that since you made it that long, you were invincible. That could cause complacency. Many SF A-Teams had an unwritten rule that team members with only a month remaining in country, were not permitted to go on patrols.
PHOTOS: CIB (from the Internet) / captured equipment (my photo).