Chapter 11 Haig

(This rendering is a very rough draft requiring many clarifications to the train of thought , as well as grammatical corrections)    

      On this same afternoon, about the same time Lt. Colonel Alexander Haig's Blue Spaders were landing at LZ George, my patrol was still engaged in the fire fight which resulted from a foiled ambush attempt of sappers to shoot us as we returned from our patrol. Of course, we were too busy with our own troubles to notice the landing. However, the men inside our perimeter at "Thrust" would have been able to see several lines of Hueys in the distance, as they passed by our NDP. Haig's boys were landing only about three to four miles, from our own location. There was no enemy resistance as they landed.

     The forty-two-year-old Haig was not the kind of commander who left anything to chance, yet he was not a "fretter" either. Haig oversaw the initial landing at LZ George and the exact placement of his own battalion's defensive positions. Soon after landing, he met with his officers and key NCOs including the FO (forward observer) assigned to his unit. His faithful S3 (operations officer) and longtime friend, Capt. George Joulwan, was by his side. As he stood there in the tall grass, getting feedback from his security patrols, he started forming a picture in his mind of how he wanted his defenses laid out. I doubt that any of his subordinates, save Joulwan, realized how fortunate they were to have a man like Haig leading them during the next couple days. He was probably somewhat of a "shot in the dark" to the few who did not know him, because he had not worked his way through the usual field commands, from platoon, to company and then battalion. Truth is, however, the men under him had now been with him long enough, to sense his natural leadership ability. He was wired differently than our commander, Dick Cavazos. He was not as "earthy", and not as apt to identify with the individual needs of a grunt like me. Never mind that, though, because no American commander possessed the overall leadership qualities, which had been instilled in 38 year old Lt. Col. Dick Cavazos, largely due to his King Ranch upbringing, under the strict, but loving hands, of a remarkable father. Yet, Haig was not as aloft as our last commander, Denton, or even the 1/16th's Lt. Col. Lazzell. He was just "matter of fact", and smart. No matter where he was assigned in the command structure, his superior leadership abilities seemed to be the one thing, which was immediately recognized by every boss he had ever had. Although he displayed a similar veneer, on the outside, to that of Westmoreland, his interior was composed of high grade steel, while Westy's was composed of a somewhat more fluid material which could flow in any direction which allowed him to maintain his imperial existence. So far, in the two months he had been with the Blue Spaders", Haig had managed to pass every tactical "pop quiz" thrown at him. The big question, which remained, was whether or not he was going to be able to pass the final exam when it came? Cavazos had passed his a long time ago in Korea and he had scored an A+. Haig had been in Korea also, but his lessons in leadership had prepared him to handle leadership problems of a more strategic nature. He had been a staff officer the entire time he served there. He had also been nabbed as a staff officer, when he first arrived in Vietnam, but his desire for entering this war zone was to command a field unit in combat. General Depuy is the reason that didn't happen. DePuy grabbed him to be his G3 almost as soon as he stepped off the plane. Why? Because the word was out about Haig, amongst senior command and DePuy wasn't about to let a talented man like him, slip through his fingers. Haig was a "maestro" at covering a boss's rear end. He was one of those rare individuals who could take the reigns of leadership and run, making his boss look good. DePuy would have been a fool not to grab Haig for his G3 and DePuy was no fool. So, Haig was "type cast" as a supporting character in the story and that should have been the end of it. For most, it would have been. Odds were that Haig would always play a supporting roll. He would never to be the "leading Man". So, what caused that to change? Why was Haig now standing in tall grass near the Cambodian border, commanding a battalion of 300 strong (If one can call that strong), soon to be personally engaged with an enemy, which outnumbered him almost ten to one? 

     No good poker player would have bet that things would have turned out this way. Shortly after becoming DePuy's staff officer, DePuy had actually witnessed for himself how brave Haig was. Yet that made no difference in helping Haig receive his wish to become a field commander. Haig had chased down an enemy soldier, right in front of DePuy, and was wounded by a hand grenade, which this guy pulled on him, as he physically tried to coral him. DePuy decorated Haig with a purple heart, but still said no, to a combat command position. So there you have it. Except for a little thing, which some call fate, there was just no way Haig was going to get to "go fight". Finally, one fine day in January of 1967, while sitting across a planning room table from Haig, DePuy was ordered in a phone conversation, by his corps commander, to release Haig for staff duty at II Field Force Headquarters. DePuy, gulped twice, then without missing a beat in the conversion, quickly announced to his superior, that he had already assigned Haig to take over command of the "Blue Spaders". It was a lie, but a lie, which DePuy now had to turn into the truth. He immediately looked across the table at Haig and abruptly announced, "Haig, I need you to report to the "Blue Spaders" as their new commanding officer". DePuy then moved their present commander into Haig's old position. That person was Lt. Col. Paul Gorman who went on to become a four-star general. So, that is how Alexander Haig finally got his chance to command a combat unit in Vietnam. The "Blue Spaders" were Haig's first "front line" combat assignment, where he carried a "long rifle" and personally led men into actual combat. If Dick Cavazos was the Army's best field commander, at that time, then there is no doubt that Haig could have easily been in the running for second place, if he had only spent just a little more time in the field.

     However, at this point, I must say that neither of these men would have risen to have held the positions of leadership, which they later held, if not for the foundational relationships provided them, by their remarkable wives, Carolyn Cavazos and Patricia Haig. In Haig's case, he had married Patricia shortly after graduating from West Point. She was a General's daughter. This alone gave him great exposure. It also helped reinforce in him the notion that general officers were not "gods" to be feared, or worshipped, but men like him, some with much smaller brains than his own. Many years later, Carolyn Cavazos revealed to me, much the same mindset in Dick and herself. She said it this way, although not in these exact words. "We always thought that we were just as capable of doing a thing as good as the next guy. No matter what their background or no matter how many pedigrees they possessed, we never thought them to be any more capable than us." Neither Haig or Cavazos would have become the leaders, which they developed into, if they had not been the beneficiaries of longstanding support from sage wives. Carolyn and Pat obviously understood the importance of the roll they had in building a stronger America, by providing wise council to their husbands.      

     I am convinced that there were many officers in 1967 who possessed the potential to be great leaders but never got there. Like Haig, they had the critical interpersonal skills, required of a commander to coordinate air strikes, artillery and communicate with subordinates, but unlike Haig, they did not possess the confidence to deal with the stupid "ass chewing chiding" and the humiliating petty commands, delivered by generals flying somewhere above the fray. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, with Lt. Col. Haig. Circumstances had allowed him to cut his teeth around general officers. Truth is, these "hen pecker" type generals were a little afraid of Haig, because they knew he had political connections in high places. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Vance, had pulled strings for him to obtain orders to Vietnam in the first place. To top things off, Haig had learned a lot about the plight of the average field commander in his relationship with the general staff. He had gained much of this experience in Korea, while serving under a "crusty ole" Lieutenant General named Ned Almond, who treated most of his field commanders like "s__t". This experience had more than prepared Haig to not only feel at home while dealing with badgering "higher ups" in the First Infantry Division, but also with the ground pounding grunts who served under him as well. One vital thing which Haig had learned over the years was how not to put his neck in the "hangman's noose" on the radio. He knew the right "take charge" lingo to use when communicating with those who outranked him without stepping on their pride, but he also realized the importance of not talking down to subordinates. Mix what I have said here with Haig's abundant common sense and it's no chore to see that Haig was a well rounded individual capable of performing at very high levels wherever he landed. Ironically, this also held him back. His bosses didn't want to turn loose of him.

     Here is one last observation, for the taking, about Haig. He was a man who wore a chip on his shoulder. Now, a chip on anyone's shoulder can become a hindrance, if not worn wisely. It can also be an asset. Many times, it can get a person off "dead center", but that means nothing if not worn wisely. With the help of a couple God given mentors in his early years, Haig had learned to wear his chip wisely. The chip, itself, was created in the aftermath of his father's sudden death, when he was only nine. It was during the height of the "Great Depression" and his entire family struggled sorely, after his well-established attorney father passed away. He suffered both emotionally as well as financially. However, a "God sent" uncle stepped in just in time, to provide him and his family with that emotional, as well as financial support. It's another version of the "Henrietta and Lauro Cavazos story" and it gives more evidence to the fact, that God's blessings can flow through a wide range of human personalities. This same uncle opened a door of opportunity for Haig to attend Notre Dame and later West Point. Interestingly enough, charity can work through believers and unbelievers alike, but most of the time many of the giving acts of unbelievers are diverted, by Satan, into harmful enablement, which then becomes a curse, instead of a blessing. Charity, which enables evil is not charity. In Haig's case, the fruit produced later in his life, proves that this was not the case with Haig. These acts of charity by an uncle were indeed well invested.

     Unlike combat veteran, Cavazos, who was in the process of transforming us, into a superior fighting unit, almost from scratch, Haig had stepped into a situation, where the previous commander, Lt. Col. Paul Gorman, had already started that good work. At the highest level, this "stepping stone" was not about Haig improving the plight of others or furthering his own career, although those things did happen. No sir! On the highest level for Haig, the upcoming battle of Ap Gu was the catalyst, which lent itself to the transformation of his person. During this very brief window in time, Haig was about to earn a membership into the most elite group of human beings this natural world has ever known, outside "The Sons of God" of course. I am speaking of a sprinkling of elites, whose elite status is not measured by stars on shoulders or strips on arms, but by the fact that they have offered their life's blood in defense of a most precious and righteous cause. Plainly put, they are those who offer up all that they are, and all that they will ever be, on earth, for the right of other humans, to freely choose, for themselves, the course of their individual lives. Never mind whether their motives are pure or not. Never mind, that they are not fully competent. No one is. Never mind, whether they win or not. It is their offering of shed blood against the forces of evil, which qualifies them and now, Alexander Haig was about to join this elite club.

     After making a final round of the perimeter defenses and inspecting each "DePuy" bunker to make sure it was constructed and positioned correctly with proper firing lanes, Haig called for one more jungle board room meeting. He had noticed that one spot on the north side of the perimeter was particularly worrisome, because the thick jungle came awfully close to a couple positions there. This was a weak point in his defenses, but Haig also understood, that there were always going to be weak points. He wasn't going to have "tired men" shift an entire section of the perimeter defenses, which would require digging new bunkers, but he would make sure that the FO had this area adequately dialed in, by supporting artillery bases like ours. 

     As for me and the men at "Thrust", we had long since resupplied ourselves with ammo and rations. We also had cleaned our weapons and checked our "claymores" to the front of every position. Finally, it was time to sort through our own thoughts and try to put the traumatic events of the day into perspective. The big guns behind me kept firing away. Much of this firing later in the afternoon was registration rounds dialing in targets for future fire missions at " LZ George". The artillery officer with us was having his crew register coordinates, for quick firing reference, and writing those coordinates down in his little notebook. For sure, he would have noted the coordinates of the weak spot pointed out by Haig. Coordinates written on this small note pad, would ensure, that his guns could respond quickly when he woke up, all sleepy eyed, in the middle of the night. Firing these registration rounds as well as H & I rounds also meant that we had to listen to a lot of noisy guns blasting away for most of the evening. H & I meant Harassment and Interdiction. It was the act of firing random shells on targets in the middle of nowhere, just to be firing. The stupidity of this tactic still amazes me to this very day. "Fire Base C" to our east (2nd Brigade Headquarters) also provided artillery support for both "George" and our position at "Thrust". We also had the 173rd Airborne, to our south, which was in range, providing artillery fires for us and I believe Fire Base Charlie also, although I don't believe their guns were in range of "LZ George". 

     The next day, March 31st, the 1/2nd Infantry Battalion was "helicoptered” from fire support base Charlie into the grassy clearing at "George" and immediately marched south, crossing to the south side of Rt. 246 about two "clicks" (Kilometer) due south of their "drop zone" at "George". They then established an NDP which was six "klicks" west by northwest of our position at "Thrust". The 1/2nd was led by " Lt. Col. William Simpson. This same morning draftee Jack Toomey was flown in from Phuoc Vinh with the mail and resupplies on a Chinook helicopter, to join his 1/2nd battalion for his first day in the field. Toomey didn't have a clue what to expect. There was triple canopy jungle surrounding his unit on all sides, and not a single Vietnamese civilian to be seen anywhere. For Toomey, it felt as though he had just arrived at the edge of the world. Only the occasional landing of a Chinook, bringing more supplies, said otherwise.

     This same morning Haig's recon platoon started out from base camp, making a probe in a northwestern direction. Their patrol moved through thick triple canopy jungle mixed with grassy clearings. The day before, shortly after landing, security patrols had discovered lots of freshly dug enemy positions in and around the grassy LZ along with some older ones. There was also freshly traveled trails within the wood line of the triple canopy jungle. The soldiers on this morning's patrol, who had been accepted into this battalion recon platoon, were not your average grunts. They had proven themselves to be highly proficient at their jobs while in a "line company" like mine. They were volunteers. Twenty-one-year-old Pete Petersen from Garden Gove, California was walking point, for the patrol. Like me, he was a draftee who had started his tour of duty a month before I had started mine. There is good indication in my research that Pete was probably walking point for his entire battalion, as I was for mine, during those dark nights, which I have described in an earlier chapter. The recon platoon leader was the no non-sense and very competent Lt. Richard Hill. Richard and Pete were the best of the best, and today they were not just near the tip of the spear, but at the very point, itself. 

     While Petersen was leading his patrol and Jack Toomey was getting settled into his new life, it was road clearing business as usual for me. We started operations that morning and it was my squad's turn to take a patrol down one side of Highway 246 just inside the wood line five meters or so off the road. Mine sweepers went down the middle of the road, staying abreast of us, sweeping with metal detectors for mines. My squad was noisier than usual this morning and since our unit had been engaging enemy patrols every day, it was getting on my nerves. My people could not stop making a lot of noise. I was becoming very aggravated at everyone and especially at Sergeant Bartee, for not saying something. I wasn't a team player. Not only was I not a team player, but that term wasn't even a part of my vocabulary. I was used to solving problems, myself, or better yet just avoiding them altogether. Today was no different. To avoid being shot by a sapper, because my squad members were making too much noise, I simply sped up, and stayed in front of Bartee, about twenty-five yards. Problem was, I didn't bother to let him know what I was doing. On a patrol like this, there was a great need to be even more quiet than normal, because sapper teams were drawn to the road like steel to a magnet. At some point Bartee caught up with me, close enough, to tell me to slow down, so the rest could keep up. In a whispered voice, I quickly and a little abruptly explained to him why I was staying a little further in front of the rest of the squad. By this point in time, I figured that he should have needed no explanation so that irritated me a little. Recently, during his down times, Bartee had started engaging in more and more pot smoking with Bill. I could tell that it wasn't helping his cognitive awareness whatsoever. I now wondered if it hadn't somehow deadened his awareness to just how dangerous this area of operations was. His reprimand to me for getting too far ahead, instead of warning the rest of the squad to be quieter, set me on edge. Soon, however, Bartee finally snapped to the situation, and silently waved two fingers toward me, indicating that he was giving me his blessing to stay further ahead than normal. I simply turned around and silently melted into the jungle. Now I could focus on what another point man, Tom Mercer, later called, "being in the zone". It seems that Bartee had finally snapped to the reason for why it was better for me to be a little further out in front this morning. The road to our left was our guide and not me, as would have been the case if we had been navigating through thick jungle. This meant that there was no need to keep eyeballs on me, to not get lost. Yet, at the same time, by following beside a road, it also meant that the point man was becoming an extremely easy target for an ambusher to hide ahead and ambush. Allowing me to get further than usual in front not only decreased my chances of living through the day but it also decreased Bartee's chances. It was much better to have the noise makers further away, giving me a much better chance of sneaking up on the ambusher, himself. Eventually however, Bartee, for all his faults, had once more displayed the one trait, which I admired about him. Yes, he had cloudy thinking, but unlike so many other NCOs, he finally realized the importance of supporting a good judgment call like this. He now realized that he was wrong and I was right, so he had no problem changing his mind about giving in to that good judgment call. Still, I was beginning to realize the long term implications of his continued pot smoking. I was becoming more convinced that it would eventually get me killed. There was no doubt that it was causing him to favor others in the squad, who also consumed the stuff, over me. While on breaks in the rear my little "fairness meter" had begun to indicate that I was getting more than my fair share of "s__t details" compared to those who smoked pot with him.  

      At one point during this patrol, we had to halt, while a wounded mine sweeper was evacuated, by a "dust-off". He was shot by a sapper from around a hundred yards down the road. The sapper probably used a Russian carbine, because I heard only one shot. As we started moving forward again, I plainly understood that I could be the next target. These sappers were great at shooting and running off never to be seen again. As I have already said, several times in the last few days, my fellow grunts had reported seeing bushes move through the woods, as they sat around on "road-guard" duty. With this information in mind, I predetermined that I was going to shoot first and question the bushes later. I kept repeating to myself, "Pull the trigger as soon you see the slightest movement of a leaf in front of you. All those years of training my eyes, while hunting, was paying off. As a boy, I had trained my eyes to spot the slightest movement of a squirrel's head on the limb of a tree. Suddenly, there was a flicker of motion, to my front, and a little to the right, away from the road. The motion was coming from something small, running across a patch of clear ground, making a scurrying sound. It was a mongoose, hunting snakes. My tension eased. It was a false alarm. By now, I had out paced my squad by at least 25 yards. While still listening to the mongoose rustling in the leaves, I began to hear something else. It was a familiar small voice coming from inside my own head and it kept repeating, "Beware. Be ready. Don't let your guard down". In response, I tensed and became acutely aware of my left index finger on the trigger of my M-14, (I'm left handed"). At the same time, I lowered the barrel to scoot under a vine and come up on the other side. It was a quiet maneuver, but the leaves on the vine, which I lifted upward with the barrel of my rifle, shook slightly. At the same time, other leaves, on vines to my front, shook slightly also. That movement was out of place and had nothing to do with the motions I was making. In response, my trigger finger moved forward, unlocking my weapon's safety, and then backward on the trigger. Firing from the hip, my M-14 "barked out" a perfect three round burst, intentionally shot low, and under the spot where I had detected the movement. It wasn't long before Bartee appeared from behind, asking in a rattled tone of voice, what I was shooting at. I could only say that I had shot at movement to my front. I could tell by the look on his face, that he was thinking I had over reacted. There was no indication whatsoever that I had shot at anything other than a few leaves. However, it wasn't his life hanging in the balance, if there had been a real threat. I didn't feel bad, at all, about what I had just done. We started moving forward again and I could see droplets of blood on the leaves around me. I said nothing to Bartee about the blood. However, it wasn't long, until he spotted the blood for himself. "Wade, I see some blood. Be careful", he whispered softly. His whispered words had a totally different tone. It was an affirming "tone of voice" this time. I made no reply and kept walking. My irritation was starting to return. It was time to start thinking about another line of work. "When was that truck driving job going to come through?", I thought to myself. It had been promised to me, by my friend, the motor pool sergeant, for what seemed like several life times.

     After clearing the rest of our assigned section of Rt. 246 just east of "George", Milliron and I sat on our post off the road, just inside the wood line for the rest of the day, while convoys rolled up and down the highway. There was absolutely no civilian presence whatsoever. I remember Milliron lying on his back lazily dozing in the morning sun, while I watched a mongoose scurrying around the jungle floor, making those familiar rustling sounds in the leaves. These cute little fellows made very distinctive sounds, which had become very recognizable to us. Bill woke up and "got on a roll", describing to me the beautiful rose gardens in his hometown of Santa Barbara. I listened to him with one ear, but ever the point man, I was also listening to the sounds of the jungle with the other ear. Mid-morning, I detected something which didn't sound right. It was a crunching of leaves followed by a long pause. The pauses was too long to be made by a mongoose. They were too hyper to wait that long. It became deathly quiet, except for the low mumbling of Bill's voice, as he continued to talk about Santa Barbara, as if he was a travel guide, of some kind. I interrupted him by pointing to the jungle in front of us. "Listen", I whispered. "Do you hear that?" After hearing two or three crunching sounds for himself, he looked at me as if to ask, "What do we do now?" Without answering, I grabbed one of my hand grenades. I then whispered in a low voice, "I think It’s time to run a little "recon mission". Bill grinned knowingly and reached for his own hand grenade. We pulled the pins. He threw to our left front, and I threw to the right, making sure that I didn't bounce my grenade off several big trees to my front. This course of action served two purposes. It stopped the crunching sounds, for the rest of the day, and the sound of the exploding grenades told everyone, who was pulling road security within ear shot, to wake up and pay attention. The rest of our morning passed without incident, but later that afternoon shortly after about 1300 hrs. we started hearing the faint sound of machine guns firing, followed by distant explosions, to the northwest of our position. 

     The sounds were coming from the direction of Pete Petersen and the battalion recon patrol. They had run into one of many temporary base camps for the 70th Guard and were now in a fire fight with hundreds of enemy soldiers. They were 800 meters north-northwest of their own base camp at "George" when it happened. Sapper teams had been aware of the patrols straight line movements, from the moment the patrol left its own perimeter at 800 hrs. that morning. The 271st NVA unit was also nearby, preparing for a later attack against Haig's main lines of defense.

     Fact is, there were just too many people in this thirty-man patrol to slip through the jungle unnoticed as they performed the same mission a squad could have performed. A platoon like this made at least three times as much noise, moved much slower and provided three times, as many targets, for ambushers to take advantage of. In the years to come, we Americans would improve reconnaissance tactics and navigation equipment greatly, but by then, it would be too late for men like Pete. Making these longer reconnaissance probes into enemy territory was the primary job of this recon platoon. They were assigned to the battalion headquarters company and were different from the long-range reconnaissance companies (LRRP) authorized by Westmoreland on the brigade or division level. In a perfect world, their main objective was to collect intel, not get into fights. However, on this day Pete's "little band of brothers" would break that rule in just about every way it could be broken. Years later, "Seal Teams" did this kind of reconnaissance work and did it better with eight men, than the battalion recon patrols could do with thirty men, for a variety of reasons, none due to recon's own individual inabilities. During the Vietnam War, It was "seat of the pants" stuff, which Pete had no choice but to go along with. Later, Haig would very briefly, but poignantly address what I am trying to say this way. He said, "In Vietnam, strategic factors hardly applied. Tactics was all, and the name of the game was not chess, but a demented and bloody form of hide-and-seek".  No final ordeal in the final moments of any American soldier's life, gives more credence to the truth of Haig's words here, than those in the life of Pete Petersen.

     Before the shooting started, Pete approached a large heavily used trail. He followed it a few feet to examine something, which caught his eye. It was a paper sign, like the ones, which the platoon had encountered earlier in low hanging branches of trees. Like the others, it said, "GO BACK OR DIE, AMERICANS!" only this sign had been intentionally placed in a firing lane of an enemy bunker, completely concealed and about twenty meters away. That bunker was tied-in with interlocking firing ports to other bunkers and connecting trenches, filled with hundreds of unseen enemy soldiers. Pete didn't stand a chance. The enemy machine gunner covering the firing lane, where the sign dangled, waited long enough to see if more people would congregate around it. However, the veteran members of this patrol were too savvy to fall for that trick. The gunner eventually tired of waiting, and "open fired" on Pete. Pete went down almost immediately. Dead branches were everywhere, left over from the construction of the overhead cover for the bunkers. As the firing intensified, tracer rounds set these dead branches on fire, causing a brief, but intense wildfire to erupt. The fire did temporarily disrupt the movements of the enemy, but it also made it impossible for anyone to rescue the badly wounded Pete Petersen. He was unable to escape the path of the fire and was engulfed in flames.

      The platoon leader, First Lt. Richard Hill was a veteran who had been in his share of fire fights. He immediately recognized, from the amount and type of incoming fire, that he was facing an over whelming enemy force. He radioed that fact to Haig, as he ordered the withdrawal of most of his men to a safer distance from the bunkers. However, Richard, himself, hesitated just a moment too long, probably trying to figure out a way to help Pete. That hesitation was a death decision for the lieutenant. A random bullet found its mark. Unnamed NCOs, however, as well as Hill's veteran RTO stepped into the command gap. The NCOs continued organizing the short withdrawal and the establishing of a semi-circle firing perimeter, while the RTO gave Haig some very accurate coordinates for an initial artillery strike. Haig did the rest with flawless precision. He made sure the artillery did its job first, followed by low flying antipersonnel bombing next. The heavy bombing came behind that, which broke apart staging areas. Without accurate adjustments called in to Haig by the RTO, however, none of this would have been possible. From their prone positions, the recon patrol now offered very small targets to the enemy, while at the same time its new position forced the enemy to leave the protection of their bunkers to get at them, before American artillery and air power could make "mincemeat" out of everyone in those bunkers and trenches. The little band of about 28 recon platoon men, however, outnumbered by at least ten to one, were able to perform in a way which should have earned each of them at least a bronze star for valor. Why? Because they held that line with such effectiveness, using controlled return fire, for the next four hours, without losing a single man. Many of them were using the M-14, which contributed greatly in their ability to do this. It was hardened and committed communist party soldiers, of the 70th Guard, not conscripts, who charged the men of this recon patrol, but they didn't stand a chance. They either ran into recon platoon's bullets to their front or were mowed down by the shrapnel from our big guns at "Thrust" and Fire Base Charlie.

     In night dreams, years later, some of this little band of soldiers would still hear Pete's agonizing screams, while the very courageous and twice wounded Vietnam veteran, Oliver Stone, would later be deceived into making a movie, which would forever tarnish the names of men like Pete Petersen and Richard Hill, by depicting them as being murders of innocent women and children, as well as each other. Fact is, the murderous events, depicted as the norm, in the movie "Platoon" never happened in the unit Oliver served in. Why would a brave and very intelligent man like Oliver Stone defile the light, which had been reflected within his own soul, causing him to volunteer to fight on the side of a righteous cause, a cause, which, if won, would have brought freedom for his fellow human beings, instead of enslavement and death to millions? 

      Upon hearing that the recon patrol was under attack, by a large enemy force, without checking with Haig, B company's commander ordered his men, who were just returning from security patrols at "George" to head toward the shooting. It’s amazing how these young company commanders would mindlessly respond to a situation without thinking. I saw this happen over and over, while I was in the field. When they impulsively did this, they usually got themselves and their men shot to pieces. To make matters worse, Haig took to the air to try and coordinate air and artillery support, from his two-man bubble helicopter, only to be shot down shortly after arriving over the fighting. Fortunately, he and his pilot made it out okay, only to become exposed to a wall of gun fire, as he ran to catch up with A company, which he had ordered into the fight, to help the beleaguered B company. Except for the recon patrol RTO, nobody had a clue as to their exact location, because everyone in the relief elements had simply started running toward the sound of gun fire, without making sure someone was counting paces and keeping track of their location. Haig's chopper crash had caused him to lose track of his own location. However, the nameless recon patrol RTO saved the day for both Haig and B company. He had kept track of his Platoon's location and was able to communicate with Haig and give him the correct coordinates to direct fires, not only onto the enemy, but also to enable Haig to keep friendly fires from falling on his own men. Haig was a very cool tactician, and though inexperienced, he had been blessed with a very short learning curve. He did an exceptional job of "calling down the world", on enemy positions, as guided by the recon RTO. If not for that RTO, he would not have been nearly as quick on the draw with those fires, because he had done the same thing, he later faulted his B company commander for doing. After crashing, he had run toward the battle "halfcocked", losing all sense of direction and recklessly exposing himself to enormous volumes of enemy gun fire. I hate to think what would have happened to his men in the major battle they were yet to fight had Haig gotten himself killed on this day. Haig later admitted that it was a real miracle that he wasn't killed in a hail of bullets, mortar and rocket fire. In my opinion it was the unnamed recon platoon RTO who saved "Haig's bacon" on this day.

     Amid devastatingly effective artillery and air power this devoted but demented battalion of the COSVN's infamous 70th regiment still managed to keep the attack going all afternoon. They no doubt followed their usual tactic of trying to flank both sides of the recon patrol, where they soon ran into the charging B company reinforcements. This created heavy casualties for both friend and foe alike. I believe the recon people were the lynch-pin center of the American fighting line this day, giving everyone else a stable rallying point. Enemy soldiers, who were caught between the recon patrol and the artillery fires were annihilated. However, B company did not fare well, because they were standing up like papier-mâché targets, as they crashed into a hail of bullets, coming from the enemy flankers, skirting both flanks of the recon platoon. This was just plain crazy. Five B company people were killed outright, and if the truth be known most of the thirty-eight wounded were also among their ranks. The First Infantry Division rarely fielded more than a hundred men in a company. With that information, its not hard to suppose that B company lost at least twenty five percent of its fighting strength, in a matter of moments. No one was killed in A company. This is good evidence that A company arrived at the fight after the remainder of B company people had established effective counter firing positions. They were also the beneficiaries of effective supporting artillery fires, which had begun to have a devastating effect on the enemy. I say again, that the unnamed RTO was a key factor in making this happen. Still, it was a long hard fire fight, lasting most of the afternoon.

     So, there you have it. This is my personal "after action" analysis done fifty some years too late. If this analysis had been done at the time, by an "ole" NCO warhorse instead of a newly minted clerk, with interviews of witnesses, and had that analysis been presented, as case studies for improving tactics, maybe more lives could have later been saved on both sides. However, that's a lot of "maybes" and all "water under the bridge" now.

      The noise made by bombing and gun fire, coming from Haig's troubles three miles away was of very little concern for Milliron and me, however, as we finished road guard activities that day. Back in camp, with no OP or ambush patrol duties for the night, all we had to do was wait by our holes for the night to close in around us. It would be over fifty years before I would realize what the "Blue Spaders" had been through on this day, or even that a unit called the "Blue Spader" existed. We were a battalion of three hundred guarding a fire support base of mechanized artillery and that was my world. Little else going on in the distance around me mattered. There were close to three thousand enemy troops nearby, but I never dreamed that our camp had any chance whatsoever of being overrun. I never dreamed that such a large force of local communist forces, joined by teenaged rice farmer conscripts existed so close to us. Oh yes, I knew that there was a very good chance I could be killed, but believing that my entire battalion could be overrun and slaughtered was a place that my naive mind had never once considered as a real possibility.

      This same day, Greg Murry, with A company of the 1/16th, was in Lai Kai for what they thought would be a few days’ rest. It was late afternoon when his unit got the call for help, from Haig. Haig determined correctly that he was going to need more reinforcements, soon after his recon platoon was hit. Like us, the 1/2nd was close by, but tasked with protecting the road used to bring in supplies. We were scattered up and down Route 246 and had to stay put. When two companies of Lazzell's 1/16th were flown in from Lai Khe, they landed just to the west of Haig's "Blue Spaders". The landing was unopposed, though they could see and hear the fireworks, coming from Haig's beleaguered troops to the north. Not long after landing, they did come under repeated mortar attacks. I believe one good thing came out of that. Some of these mortar teams were located and done away with, by air strikes, leaving the enemy a little short on mortar crews the next morning, when they launched their main attack on Haig's position. Maybe that's why we never got mortared during the main attack.       

     As the sun was setting, the noises of the daylight combat events tapered off. The NVA had pulled back by then. Except for those grunts on ambush or listening post (LP) duties, we "Dogface" boys in the 1/18th were in our holes, for the night. The 1/2nd were in their holes for the night, and Greg Murry with the 1/16th was still digging his hole. Jack Toomey, however, had just learned that he would not be in his hole on his first night in the field after all. He and two other new guys were told to man a listening post (LP) fifty yards in front of their battalion's perimeter. Though I am sure Jack has forgotten many mental boyhood landmarks, he still remembers this night like it was yesterday. He remembers exactly where he was, and what he was doing the entire night. Why? Because it would be the first time, he would ever have another human being trying “real hard” to kill him. That, in itself, made it a "night to remember".

     On this same night, enemy patrols were thick as fleas. Besides the regular patrols assigned to place mines on Route 246, from An Loc to Katum, other sapper teams were assigned to scout around the perimeter of the 1/16th and the 1/2nd for suitable places to cause trouble anyway they could. Maybe it would be a quick ambush on an American ambush patrol, or a listening post or even a battalion perimeter, itself. On this night (March 31, 1967), however, these sappers knew very well, that they were the side show, in the upcoming main NVA attack, which would target Haig's "Blue Spaders". That attack was to be a "show piece" assault. Perhaps, some of the COSVN leadership were looking over the shoulders of the planners, as they made their plans. I say this because it was common knowledge that the 70th guard, was never far from the senior communist leadership in South Vietnam. The 70th were their protectors and prisoners taken indicated that they were in on this fight.

     A couple hours after darkness fell, Jack and the two new guys with him heard rustling noises in the jungle to their front. As they sat in the darkness, they also began to hear Vietnamese voices. Immediately, they broke radio silence and relayed this information to their platoon RTO. It wasn't long before the company commander was monitoring their transmissions. Jack's companions soon became frightened enough to ask if they could return to the safety of the perimeter, but their request was denied. Jack didn't know enough yet to be that scared. He was, however, becoming acutely aware, that he was not in "Kansas" any longer. It was a little overwhelming, so he did what most of us had done on our first day in the field. He "just went with the flow", while one question kept popping up in his head. How had he gotten himself into a "fix" like this in the first place? This combat thing was quickly becoming, by far, the "biggest deal" of his young life. Fifty-some years later, the now retired judge Jack Toomey would say in a public interview, that situations he faced in combat were the most life-changing events that he would ever experience. Having said that, let me also say, that the later twice decorated machine gunner, Jack Toomey, obviously faced some big challenges after returning from Vietnam. Some of those voluntary challenges were greater than most of the rest of us would dare embrace. Many of them were in the service of his fellow Americans. I say all this to say, a statement like this by Jack should speak volumes to other veterans who are struggling with the persistent memories of combat. If Jack could deal with them, then you can do it too, if you don't give up. Confess Christ as lord and then ask God for His help.

     On this eve of one of the biggest battles fought in the entire war, positioned at the very edge of human insanity, I am using Jack's story as a good example of the way most of us felt, as we encountered the enemy for the first time. Very little, taking place on this LP, even remotely, reminded him of a single life experience acquired thus far, in and around his hometown on Long Island, New York. As Jack struggled with a flood of new emotions, the Vietnamese voices got louder. Then too, the “begging to come home" talk on the radio also increased. Obviously, no one had bothered to show these new guys how to tell enemy voices in the jungle to "shut up". They had no idea that a few well-placed hand grenades thrown in the direction of the voices could help tremendously to solve that problem. If it didn't, then a few well placed mortar rounds would have definitely gotten the job done. Instead, they allowed these seasoned sappers, to hear their anxious voices on the radio, resonating fearful tones, which could be recognized in any language. The very breaking of squelch, in itself, was enough to give their location away. It was a game of sorts, and a game where "Jack and friends" had just become the prey. Bullets started popping over their heads, slamming through the vegetation all around them. When that happened, Jack's company commander immediately gave his permission for the LP to pop claymores and return to the perimeter. The savvy sappers then quickly withdrew a safe distance, only to reappear again, during the night, to harass other spots along the battalion's perimeter. Jack was now as wide awake as he had ever been in his entire life and would remain that way all night long. His adrenalin was flowing, but the crash would catch up with him later. However, for now, he was experiencing the same rush that every new guy felt, after being shot at, for the very first time. Six clicks away from where the main attack would take place, I was starting to enjoying a few hours, of quiet, as the big tracked 155 mm guns behind my position went silent for a while.

     After the day's events, Haig's men took full advantage of the respite, Haig included. The most underrated but maybe the most important aspect of successfully commanding a combat unit in Vietnam, or anywhere, for that matter, was, and is the ability of a commander to recognize, when and how, to take advantage, of a thing called sleep, doing nothing, but turning the mind off, and "slumbering away". Haig had mastered this skill in Korea, but there was a secret ingredient in his recipe, giving him a huge edge. That ingredient had a name, and her name was Patricia Fox Haig, Alexander's wife. His wife, "Pat", had kept the home fires burning brightly since the beginning of his military career, and would continue to do so, year after year, assignment after assignment, including those very trying Whitehouse assignments to come. Americans like "Pat" were and are truly the unsung heroes of this age. However, with the assault on the family unit, which is the elemental building block of all free societies, their numbers are dwindling.

     Sometime after three am in the morning, the person manning the radios at Haig's command bunker started receiving calls, from all three company commanders. The reports said over and over that many of their listening posts were hearing noises. (Haig had intentionally not posted ambush patrols on this night, which showed an incredible amount of forethought) It was probably his faithful operations officer, George Joulwan, who woke him up. Joulwan would have known when to do that, but just as importantly, he would have also known when to let him sleep. As Haig sat up, rubbing his face with both hands, he was given the news. He immediately gave orders for each company mortar platoon to go to work, dropping rounds on positions, where the noises were being heard. (This was something that Jack's commander should have strongly considered doing, when Jack's listening post heard those noises). The previous day's attack on Haig's recon platoon had already alerted Haig's keen mind, to the fact, that an all-out attack on his perimeter lines was imminent. That's exactly why he posted no ambush patrols on this night. Haig was one of those rare guys, who had a knack for figuring things out, no matter what mess he was thrown into. He reasoned correctly, since the "Blue Spaders" were very close to Cambodia, that enemy supplies and conscripts could be moved quickly, from protected staging areas just across the international border (Thank you, Mr. Johnson) to "pre-attack positions" surrounding his present position. Visa versa, after the battle, Haig knew it was only a short distance over the border, to very safe and well stocked camps. This made the possibility of an attack even more likely. Fresh conscripts could be moved from their training camps in just a few hours, to be flung at the Americans before first light.  

     Whether he won this next upcoming battle on April 1, 1967 or not, it was going to be "a beautiful day in the neighborhood" for the evil minded General Thanh. His field commanders had busied themselves all night sneaking into locations around Haig and Lazzell's battalions. Other sapper teams surrounded Jack's 1/2nd battalion, which was located 2 Klicks away, as well as our own. These more hardened sappers monitored and harassed the 1/2nd battalion and ours mainly to make sure that we stayed put. Large numbers of conscription forces, on both sides would be used in the battle of Ap Gu, as well as all the big battles fought during 1967. The huge advantage which Thanh's side had over Haig's, however, was the lack of concern he was required to have for basic human rights. Thanh had no moral restrictions personally or otherwise, on how he could use human flesh to fuel his war machine. To him and his cohorts that was a beautiful thing as well as a very difficult factor for our own generals to correctly contemplate. Throughout the war years the communists maintained large numbers of conscription forces in the South with death being the only end date to their plight. Victory would allow less than twenty people to share absolute control over the Vietnamese people. They would rule as they pleased with no restrictions. Their only worry in life would be each other. Each of those twenty would forever have to keep a close eye on the other nineteen, if they did not want to fall prey to the "ole knife in the back" trick. Personally, I would rather have a constitution like ours to be beholding to, rather than live like that. NVA conscripts were composed of youngsters, who were fed one lie after another starting long before their nightmarish trip south began. No controlling actions, including summary executions, were off-limits to get them to become more compliant. Most of the time, however, the very clever propaganda talking points distributed regularly throughout all the units, by communist disinformation specialists, worked wonderfully to keep these "deplorables" in line. To further that effort they were divided into cells of three. Each of those cell members was forced to regularly critique themselves and the other two, viewed under the watchful eye of a more well groomed NCO. Truth is, less than 3 in one hundred of their parents belonged to the communist party and this lack of motivation to become a card-carrying member did nothing but add to the distain, which Thanh felt for his own people. Deep down he thought less of them than he did Westmoreland and Haig's "Blue Spaders". The communist action plan had always been to rid themselves of two problems, one from within first and than from without. Over and over, in the war, communist leaders like Thanh, who wielded complete control of the citizenry in the North, would intentionally sacrifice the lives of these conscripts just as quickly, as he would kill a fellow like me, and maybe quicker, because I had some pretty devastating ways of fighting back. Here is the evidence for saying what I just said. The proof is in the pudding. History tells us that every single communist ideologue who has ever come to power has become involved in the wholesale murder and incarceration of his own people. I challenge the reader to name one who hasn't. I further believe that Thanh viewed the lives of these young conscripts as having no greater value than to be sacrificed on the alter of a cause which would give unlimited power to him and a few of his associates". If one has ever studied  Stalinism, he or she would know that it is reasonable for me to say what I am saying here. The Vietnamese communist mindset, largely schooled under Stalinism, considered the sacrificing of these young rice farmers as nothing more than "just atonement" for the nearly unpardonable sin of being politically neutral. Even today, only 3% of the Vietnamese population belong to the communist party and here is a "dirty little secret" about all those who embrace a communist mindset. All communists are haters first and communists second. That hate drives them to continually look for ways to turn perceived sins of omission into apostasies. Thus, these politically powerless rice farmers were viewed by elitists like Thanh to be the "deplorables" of their day. Like all communists, Thanh was a hate filled creature who directed that hate first against his own people, whom he viewed as spineless "deplorables". Why did he do that? Was it because they had no wish what-so-ever to substitute their innocuous pursuits of growing rice, peacefully raising their children and honoring their ancestors, for a twisted life like Thanh's. I believe it was. Their natural "bent" was not to follow the amoral inhuman initiatives of the communist party. They instinctively saw communists for what they were. Yet, fear of death dealing retribution from these ruling elites kept them in check and hateful psychopaths like Thanh learned quickly how to finesse this powerful control mechanism called "fear" for their own personal gain. He took many of his classes in the use of that fear, from the murderer, Stalin. Then and now, the more this power is wielded, the more it makes an elitist "hater" become ever more drunk with hatred. That hatred will then always be directed at every fellow human being, who does not think exactly, as he or she thinks on any given day. It wasn't a huge mental leap, for the "Haters of Hanoi", to figure out a quicker way to improve and expand their utopian state. They would  take the children of these "deplorables" away from their families, at no cost to themselves, and place them onto a bureaucratically powered conveyor belt called the Ho Chi Minh Trail". As these hapless youths were herded into South Vietnam, they would then be dashed against an antiqued but powerful American military, whose leaders were still stuck in a World War II mindset. When they reached their jungle holding pens in the south, before being led to the slaughter, they would be drilled night and day. One of the many drills to be taught was how to instantly respond to the different blasts of a bugle. One of those blasts would signal the "death charge". In this way, Thanh's "big battle" strategy accomplished it's two objectives. Number one, it deceived the strategically and tactically challenged Westmoreland into an illusion of victory, through body counts. Secondly, it got rid of a whole bunch of rice farmers who would die in support of Thanh's more ideologically committed cohorts. This action plan also allowed the communist to keep killing more young Americans, which worked to throw more wood on the fires of a growing anti-war sentiment in America. At the same time, these poor counterfeit communist youths, dressed in brown and green uniforms and videoed double timing in formations down ox cart trails gave our World War II vintage generals the illusion that they were up against a monolithic wall of true believers. This was just the kind of monolithic wall that they were comfortable dealing with because they had done it before. They had done it with Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo. Thanh's cleverness in choosing this "big battle" strategy, whether fully conceptualized or not,  wound up being just the right ticket, to annihilate both his enemies from within and from without, leaving him and his communist mafia friends unscathed and in complete control of a beautiful people's every breath, to this very day. 

     As Murry finished up his last guard of the night, and was falling fast asleep, a single registration round fell a short distance from Haig's bunker. Haig, already awake, heard it, and guessed correctly, that a full barrage would soon follow. He had his entire battalion on full alert and called Murry's commander, Lt. Col. Lazzell, advising him to do the same, with his "Rangers" (the 1/16th nick name). Haig didn't have long to wait for the main attack to begin. In a matter of about twenty minutes over 300 rounds of 60 mm, 82 mm and 120 mm mortar rounds fell on Haig's position and probably an equal number on Murry's "Rangers". 75 mm Pack Howitzers and mortars were used to shell Fire Base Charlie. We had just come from there a few days earlier. The 75mm pack Howitzers were obtained from the Chinese, who obtained them from the United States, during the second World War. The shelling of Fire Base Charlie hampered, somewhat, that fire base's efforts, to provide fire support for Haig. It was located about 12 clicks to the east of "George" was also 2nd brigade headquarters. The brigade commander, Col. James Grimsley was wounded by shrapnel and had to be evacuated. He would later go on to become a major general. The resulting enemy mortar attack on the 1/26th, the 1/16th and fire base Charlie was one the most ferocious, of the entire Junction City operation.    

     Just before things got hot for Haig and Murry, I sat in the darkness, pulling the last hour of my guard time, and anticipating some of the dehydrated vegetable beef soup, which "Tiny" had started preparing for us, to be flown out to supplement our morning coffee. There would also be freshly made donuts, which were better than any I had ever tasted in the States. This was in addition to the hot meal which Tiny made for us later in the day, day after day, while we were in the field, under Dick's command. We didn't get anything nearly this appetizing, while good "ole C-ration Denton" was running things.

     Suddenly, the gun crews behind my position came to life. Within two or three minutes, after I witnessed their crews scurrying around behind me, those big 155s began blazing away, waking up everyone, who was still trying to sleep. We had a star light scope in my position with fresh batteries, so Bowman and I started using it to search the wood line to our front about 75 meters away. In just a few minutes flares under little white parachutes started popping open over our heads. I believe they were coming from the guns of the 173rd Airborne unit to the south of us. We put the star light scope back in its case and started watching the skyline toward the northwest where we were able to hear large explosions. Bill had wandered off again, to be with Bartee and his RTO so they could monitor the radio, while Bowman and I held down the "fort", sitting quietly, saying nothing to each other. Bill was a Californian and Californians always seemed to be more sociable, than mountain boys, like bowman and I. Bowman was so quiet, that, at times, a stranger could have easily mistaken him for a "mute".       

      Jack's unit was spared a mortar attack. We were too. It was another story for Murry and Haig, however. Hearing mortars leaving their tubes, snapped the veteran Murry out of his dreamland state barely in time to dive into his bunker, before a mortar round turned him into small body parts. He was now wide awake and looking for his rifle, while his foxhole buddy was screaming for him to get off his back, literally. Still looking for his rifle, Murry scrambled off his "buddy" and crawled out of his hole into another hole made by a mortar round, the one, which would have blown him apart, had he been just a "tad" slower in the "low crawl". He grabbed his rifle and reentered his bunker to assume his shooting position. His buddy was already blazing away, as if he was putting on a show for Walter Cronkite's camera crew. That's when it happened. It was a nightmare which was repeated over and over for our fighting men in Vietnam and a needless one I might add. Murry's M-16 jammed, making him one more testament to how sorry the M-16 was. I can't help but wonder how many Washington palms had to be greased to make sure the contract for these inferior weapons never got cancelled. However, that touches on another story about another swamp, nearer to home than the swamps of Vietnam.

      While Murry low crawled from his bunker one more time, to the next bunker over, trying to find a cleaning rod to knock the jammed cartridge out of the breach of his rifle, Haig was faced with a much bigger problem. Every action taken by Haig from this point on, during and after the battle of Ap Gu would forever be, to his glory, or his shame. That's the only two human headings on the score card of any combat commander, who leads soldiers in battle. Whether a commander is leading a squad, a platoon, a company, or an entire army, he or she must make the most logical decisions under God, letting the score card be damned, and at the same time, let God sort things out. If that rule is not ardently followed, the soul of that leader will not bear the consequences. Maybe not today, nor tomorrow, nor next year, but at some point in time, regardless which side of the score card has the most checks, the consequence of just taking the test, itself, will always ensure that a certain kind of terrible insanity will result for all, who fail to let God do the grading.

    It was still Friday evening back in the States. Many Americans were just beginning to unwind from a hard week at work. While LZ George was lit up with bombs, mortars, and tracers, many Americans were intently focused on adjusting the "rabbit ear antennas" on the TV, so they could view more clearly their favorite Friday evening TV show. Others were busy preparing to chase their Friday night passions in all sorts of other ways. At the time this battle was taking place, as well as others similar to it, most Americans were quite unaware of the suffering in Vietnam. There certainly were no Ernie Piles around, as in World War II, to record the everyday life and raw courage of a unit like the 1/26th. Instead, every major news network seemed much more disposed to catch us citizen soldiers, with our pants down.

      Communist officers, by this time, had moved their disposable conscripts as close in, as possible, just before the mortar attack was launched. They had picked the best spot on the Northeast side of the perimeter for the main attack to take place, the same spot Haig had been concerned about. A few conscripts, who were deemed more complaint, during their harsh training, were given satchel charges and instructed beforehand, on how to use them to blow up a bunker. It would not have been lost on these very intelligent "young deplorables" just how slim their chances of survival were. However, they had no choice. A quick summary execution, by a bullet to the brain awaited them, if they refused orders. Worse yet, one American, whom I interviewed, said that after the battle, his squad found a dead NVA conscript chained to the limb of a tree. He had obviously been punished this way as an example to his fellow conscripts. This action said in no uncertain terms just what was in store for anyone who refused to die the way their communist overlords had planned. Can the reader imagine the immense emotional agony, which this young human being, who was created in the image of God, must have experienced, as he waited for what must have seemed like an eternity to die either of exposer, a bullet, or a bomb.

     The night before the main attack, Haig held the recon platoon's 28 men in reserve, having them spread out between the command bunker and the B company's east side perimeter, where they could fill in the ranks of the wounded which had to be evacuated earlier.    

     Haig never heard the enemy bugles blow at 0520 hrs., signaling for the main human wave attack to begin against his northeastern perimeter. Neither did he see the flashes from the satchel charge explosions, which destroyed two of his C company bunkers, instantly killing the C company men inside. He had been much too focused on making sure that the officers, NCOs, and their RTOs now crowded around him in the command bunker, had their wits about them. That trait in Haig, which allowed him to assess and steady his people, in times of severe stress, like this, was a rare trait indeed, in the "Big Red One". Haig had that ability and so did Cavazos. Fortunately, not only did Haig have the "right stuff", but he also had been in command of the "Blue Spaders" long enough, to have made sure by now that most officers and NCOs, affecting his command, were either up for the task, or reassigned to other jobs. Since day one, he had also used his experience to tweak his junior officers' understanding of S.O.Ps, so they would apply them, according to his way of thinking. In short, he had put the icing on the cake which Gorman had baked. What kind of icing am I talking about? Here is just one example. Everyone knew, at the beginning of a fight, that most of the time, unless otherwise ordered, he always wanted artillery to have preference over air strikes close in to is men. The big bombs, on the F4s, were to be used to bust up enemy assembly areas a little further back, but not as far back as the arbitrary 1000-meter S.O.P. called for. Now, while the sound of mortar blasts were subsiding outside the command bunker and that of rifle pops was increasing, Haig began to focus intently on each of the multiple streams of radio transmissions around him, for any sign of a hiccup. Those transmissions, with hiccups, would be addressed immediately, but not as harshly, as the ghost of General Ned Almond, may have wanted. It wasn't long before Lazzell's voice became one of those transmissions. It wasn't a hiccup. It was just good information. Lazzell was verifying what Haig had already suspected would happen. "We are receiving a lot of incoming small arms fire on the northeast and east side of our perimeter", Lazzell reported in the best command voice he could muster. Though he said nothing to anyone, including Lazzell, Haig knew this diversionary attack meant that his "Blue Spaders" could expect the full force of General Thanh's wrath, to probably hit them on their eastern perimeter and not in between the two American battalions where this firing was coming from. Another radio report was now saying that fire base Charlie was being shelled. An FO's RTO was already on the horn to one of our artillery officers at "Thrust", asking him if he could take up the slack, until Fire Base Charlie could get a handle on things. I say all this to say that the command bunker was a busy place, with command personnel doing what they should be doing in a situation like this, which was to work "the crap" out of those radios. Haig, was tuning into conversations, as needed, to keep abreast of developments unfolding, when suddenly he heard the distinctive voice of his C company commander, Capt. Brian Cundiff, saying his northeastern side of the perimeter was being overrun. This was conformation of the main attack, which Haig had been expecting. He grabbed the mic from the hand of his "Romeo 6" and started to address Capt. Cundiff, by his radio call sign, "Charlie 6", when Cundiff abruptly interrupted him. "The b- -t- -ds are in the bunkers with us", Cundiff blurted out, for all the world to hear. Upon hearing that, Haig immediately reassured his junior officer, letting him know, that help was on the way. Without saying a word, Haig reached down and grabbed his AR-15 and then charged out of the command bunker, while his radio operator scrambled to keep up. In a few seconds he was starring into the face of that nameless recon platoon sergeant, telling him to have his recon platoon "saddle up" and follow him. He had walked the lines enough to know exactly where he was going, and now, just like the day before, Haig ran, facing a hail of bullets toward  Capt. Cundiff's position. There was a real danger of a "friendly fire situation occurring, if those recon guys following Haig did not pick their targets carefully. However, just like the day before, recon platoon's fire control was flawless.  

     Dawn was breaking. Targets on the ground could be more easily identified by soldiers doing the ground fighting. However, low hanging clouds were still preventing the big jets from dropping their ordinance, as close in, as Haig now realized they needed to be dropped. It seems to me that communist planners had "goofed a bit", when they started their assault about the same time the sun was coming up. This was about an hour too late, to take full advantage of the darkness. Haig had wisely let the NCOs of recon know beforehand, to ready themselves, as his reserve, to be used anyway he saw fit, during an impending enemy attack. Now, in the twilight, with bullets popping by everyone in the open, recon people united with C company as everyone spread out around their "Ole Man", carefully picking off anyone trying to get at them or their buddies. Some hand to hand fighting ensued. It was the kind of fighting and killing almost unheard of in jungle warfare. The lines were quickly reestablished, with recon people filling in the gaps along with C company soldiers. These deadly shooters had eliminated every threat inside the wire, without getting a single recon man killed, while losing only eight men in C company, during the entire battle of Ap Gu. All but one of these, were killed by fragmentation wounds, which would seem to indicate that the gun slinging shootout was a one-sided affair. This, alone, speaks volumes to the proficiency of this little band of citizen soldiers.

      Low hanging clouds, preventing the Air Force from bombing, wasn't the only problem Haig faced. The perimeter had been reestablished for the time being, but Haig knew it couldn't withstand another human wave attack for other reasons besides just low hanging clouds. Both "Thrust" and "Fire Base Charlie" where getting low on munitions. C company and recon were now very effectively preventing further intrusions, on their lines, but they were also running low on ammo. The huge volume of incoming small arms fire said that there was still a large force, hiding in the grass, just outside the wire. This strongly suggested that another large scale human wave attack was imminent. Now was the time, like never before, to get those air assets moving, but exactly how was that going to happen? The answer to that question now rested solely on the shoulders of Alexander Haig, and Haig alone. 

      Brigadier General Hollingsworth, second in command of the Big Red One, was circling above the battlefield in his Huey gunship. Other gunships were peeing red tracers toward the ground, which I could see all the way from my position at "Thrust". "Puff the Magic Dragon" was also circling overhead of the battle. I could hear the buzz-saw sound of it's mini-guns. One Arial report, coming from one of the circling aircraft, later said that they saw wounded NVA soldiers, helping other wounded soldiers, not to retreat, but to make death charges against the American line. When my research discovered that information, like many others, my first thought was to be amazed at how committed these NVA soldiers were to their cause. That thought, however, was a misconception. Almost all of these brown or green uniformed NVA were not committed communists, but nothing more than teenaged conscripts, suffering from advanced stages of a communist induced Stockholm Syndrome, who were led by their communist handlers to the slaughtering pen. Their heart was not in winning this battle, but in staying alive for just a few more minutes. How can I be so sure, what I have just said here is true? The evidence is in the outcome of such attacks as at Ap Gu. Not a single recon platoon member was killed during the numerous shoot-outs, yet they were, at one point, out in the open, engaged in a "good ole fashioned" O.K. Coral type gunfight. Capt. Cundiff shot six enemy soldiers, himself, at point blank range. The after-action report says that 34 enemy bodies were later found inside C company perimeter. However, not a single member of recon and only one C company man was killed by gunshot wounds. This would have been impossible, if they had tangled with the more experienced communist killers, like those sappers which we routinely faced on patrols and perimeter probes. Sappers, were the more trusted troops and were the ones my unit skirmished with, on a daily basis. However, the poor souls, who had been commanded to charge Haig's lines, in response to a bugle, were "throw-a-ways", cohered by hardened communist ideologues, to perform suicidal acts. Unspoken horrors awaited them, and their families, if they did not obediently die as told. History shows us over and over that human flesh is cheap under the communist ideology, regardless of who is in charge. You see, under communism's total domination, it doesn't matter whether a Stalinist personality or the saintly apostle, Peter, himself, is in charge. In either case, there can be no "human rights". This battle was just a small example, of the horrendous capital, in human suffering, which this evil ideology is forced to depend upon, for its existence. Here is an "absolute truth" for the taking. No human being, save Jesus Christ, Himself, is capable of managing absolute political power over other human beings, and still retain the ability to respect human life. The only way that will happen is by dividing government's power amongst several branches of governing authority, which derive their authority to rule, from the people being governed. Tie this democratic idea to an inalienable bill of rights, derived from Judeo-Christian principles of morality, and you, my friend, have yourself a government, which can promote unprecedented progress and protection, year after year, century after century, until my Lord returns. All bets are off, however, when the human heart rejects the moral percepts proclaimed in the 10 cmmandments. 

      Shortly before 0700 hours, Hollingsworth was still circling overhead. He had managed to redirect more artillery fires on the northeastern and eastern side of the perimeter. By now, Haig had returned from leading his recon platoon, to shore up the breach in the lines, and was squatting in front of the opening, to the command bunker. He could hear the loud shearing sound of our big 155 artillery shells, cutting through the air and exploding just in front of C company's bunkers, but he knew more needed to be done. This was the moment where Haig proved to all, who cared to pay attention, that when something needed to be taken to the next mile, he was the man for the job. Haig turned his head slowly from one side to the other, while issuing his next order to all officers and NCOs in ear shot, including his "Top Sergeant", who had also been by his side all morning. "Have all our mortar platoons lay down phosphorous rounds forty meters to the front of the eastern perimeter. (Burning phosphorous gives off white billowing clouds, which can easily be spotted from the air.) While still kneeling, he then turned his entire body toward the battalion's air officer, Capt. John Buck. Buck was crouching down on the other side of the command bunker. "Captain Buck, I need you to drop napalm on top of those phosphorous rounds". He then addressed his RTO in a subdued tone. "Get General Hollingsworth on the horn. Without hesitation, his RTO broke squelch a couple times and voiced the radio call sign for Hollingsworth over the airways. Haig motioned for him to hand over the mic to him. "Holly, I don't care how you do it, but I want cluster bombs dropped on top of the napalm I have ordered to be dropped along my eastern perimeter. Bring them right up to the perimeter". Haig fully realized the implications of this public request, which he had just spoken for all to hear. Those words to his boss shifted liability, for creating a friendly fire incident, from his superior officer, "General Hollingsworth, to his own shoulders. It also did something else. That request, which followed a course of sensible actions, unburdened the load, on his boss's shoulders, which freed the general up, to become an asset, instead of a hindrance. This is an excellent example of the kind of interactions, which competent leaders should strive to have with their boss. Since they are closer to a problem, they should always suggest a course of action, before their superior has to spend valuable time, trying to come up with one, themselves. Why? Because Hollingsworth had other responsibilities and could never be as tuned into Haig's situation as Haig, himself.

     The ranks of the 271th Viet Cong Regiment, waiting in the tall grass, to mount their next human wave attack, were devastated by the resulting anti-personnel bombing. The enemy was "sent packing" and by 0800 hours, the Battle of Ap Gu was over. However, the godless communist leadership wasn't concerned in the least, for the loss of life, of their own countrymen. A good communist will never grieve for anyone or anything because they are too busy blaming others for what they are doing, themselves. Already, more very young Vietnamese men and women were pouring into the training camps just over the border in Cambodia. In a few weeks, I, myself, would have a close encounter with a battalion sized unit of these NVA 271st soldiers, who, by that time, were fully resupplied and refitted. Unlike Haig, however, I would face them, with only seven men, and the voice of the Holy Spirit of God to guide me. 

     Before the morning had ended, Haig was ordered to replace the wounded Col. Grimsley. Hollingsworth's helicopter was soon ferrying him to second brigade headquarters, where he was given command of that entire brigade. He was also immediately promoted to full colonel.

      At some point, during this same morning, I began working on my second, or maybe third helping, of dehydrated vegetable beef soup. It would be over fifty years, before I would realize what had just occurred at LZ "George", only a very short distance, from my little spot on the earth.