Copyright 2003: Richard P. Guthrie. All rights
reserved. (Copy permission at bottom)
It was a steamy morning and the entire battalion lined up for the move north to our new Area of Operations. We were arrayed on both sides of the access road to the small Quartermaster compound, with B Company in the lead. As I walked the line of our twenty armored personnel carriers (APC's) lining the narrow dirt road, I took satisfaction from the fact that in three short months we had metamorphosed from being the problem company I had taken command of at Fort Hood, to being the one trusted with leading the battalion's first overland movement in the combat zone. 2LT Brian Thomas' first platoon would be the lead platoon in my lead company. He would later say: "I must admit that I felt extremely proud on that day. I felt so proud of my men who had worked so hard."
Line of Departure (L.D.) Time came and went, but we didn't move. This violation of a cardinal rule was justified on the grounds that we were "holding in place" for the arrival of a visitor, whose identity was not announced for security reasons. He had to be very important, because -- in that Army at least -- one simply did not blow L. D. Time without strong cause. And eventually, sure enough, a shiny, Simonized UH-1 helicopter circled overhead, and I got a radio call to pop a smoke grenade at a good Landing Zone near the road at the head of the column. I did as requested, and the Huey came in and landed. The rotors were still turning fast as the tall, slender, erect, handsome general jumped down and strode towards us.
I double-timed to meet him and reported. General Westmoreland had not aged much since the day he'd handed me my diploma at the West Point Field House a little over four years earlier. He returned my salute and gave my hand a single cursory shake as he stalked purposefully towards the column of vehicles behind me. I hurried along, to his left and slightly behind him as prescribed by customs and courtesies.
"Tell me about this unit, Cap'n."
"Sir, this is the First Battalion, Mechanized, 50th Infantry. We have just come from Fort Hood by ship, and we're moving north to operate with the Second Brigade of the First Cav Division."
"What about your equipment?"
"Sir, this APC is the newer M113, the A-1. As you can see up there, we have the normal .50 Caliber Machine Gun in the Track Commander's cupola, but we also have the two kits with the M-60 machine guns and protective armor plate mounted on either side of the cargo hatch. This gives one of my rifle squads more firepower than a platoon had in Korea. My company probably has more fire power than a battalion had in the Second World War." I thought I saw my last boast raise an eyebrow, but he did not otherwise react.
"What else about these Tracks?"
"Well, the armor is more effective. The improved alloy means the skin is not as vulnerable to penetration by small arms fire as the older models. This one also has a diesel engine, which gives it greater cruising range, greater autonomy, and there's less likelihood of it catching on fire if it takes a hit."
As we walked, he was nodding to the troops assembled on their vehicles and returning salutes and reports from the platoon leaders. He'd grunt now and then, but I was pretty sure he wasn't even listening to what I told him. I also was plenty grateful that all the troops kept their helmets on, and that none of the Bravo Braves' Mohawk haircuts came to the attention of the highest ranking General in Viet Nam.
We got to the end of my Company's column and the next Commander reported to him. Without breaking stride, he returned the salute, shook the hand, and kept on walking up the road between the rows of boxy M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers.
At the top of the hill the road widened at
the entrance gate to the compound we had used for a couple of days. There, the general
jumped nimbly up on the hood of our Battalion Commander's Jeep, and, fully erect, turned
to face the troops he had just passed.
Corny though it may have sounded to me, the troops loved it, and the humid morning air throbbed with their cheering. Undeniably, the General's welcome took the sharp edge off of being the newest unit in country. If The Commander in Chief himself said he was glad to have us on board, then we didn't have to worry quite so much about proving ourselves.
Copyright 2003 Richard P. Guthrie,
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