Exert 3 -  Little Men

     I have described just a few of the many significant changes, which Dick made, after assuming command. I could go on and on, but I believe I have made my point. By this time in Dick's tour, he had turned the 1/18th into, as good a combat unit, as existed in 1967 Vietnam for the type of combat we were facing. His animated way of initiating and explaining the reasons behind routine commands, always had an earthy and unmatched characteristic, unique to him alone, among the 9 battalion commanders. I never once saw him bully or try to intimidate a grunt. When he spoke to the battalion, there was not a man in the unit who did not listen and listen intently, because whatever he had to say was always extremely engaging and important. Yes, he was the complete package, and by now that package had laid a foundation, which would allow us to withstand anything which Thanh could throw at us.

      Yet, Dick was now halfway through a regular infantry officer's tour of duty in the field, and we were still being left behind when Operation Billings cranked up. I will always believe that the major reason behind that was because "little man syndrome" was at epidemic levels amongst senior commanders. While other big engagements raged all around us, no opportunities to get into those fights came our way. Since nothing but "body counts" put a smile on the faces of senior  leadership, Dick had little chance of becoming noticed by these "little men" who were staunchly in charge. There were several sparing matches with the enemy that could have gotten the attention Dick needed, but Dick had a way of nipping things which the enemy throw at him in the bud, before they became big things. He was just too wily to be baited into one of Thanh's traps. Like an "ole moss-back buck", his instincts for slipping the noose were uncanny. I witnessed that, several times. One of those times I have already described in a previous chapter, where I almost got squashed by the flying tree. Another time we made an air assault at noon into a little clearing in thick jungle. Shortly afterward, while digging in, enemy mortar rounds started raining down around me. In less than five minutes, phantoms appeared and started roasting the jungle around us with well placed napalm, followed by antipersonnel bombs and artillery. Still, to this day, I cannot believe how quickly the Air force showed up. They had to be circling nearby when we first landed. The enemy shelling stopped immediately and less than 30 minutes later Hueys were landing to extract us and take us back to a nearby base camp and a hot meal. I never learned the details behind this event, but I would be willing to give good odds that it had something to do with Dick outthinking some general, by suggesting he use us as bait, instead of becoming pawns, for that general's much more stupid and higher risk idea. Only Dick had this kind of persuasiveness, coupled with the command ability to pull off such a stunt. In any case, at this point, we grunts would have rather been used as bait for one of Dick's traps, than having to safely pull duty at a base camp like Di An, under the leadership of any other battalion commander.

Whether seen through the eyes of other grunts, or through my own eyes, to my amazement, our conclusions wound up being the same. Dick had all the "right stuff". Yet, senior leadership was not noticing it. The truth is "Little men" are often nearsighted as well as tone deaf. That's another reason why it became impossible for Hay to notice the more subtle, but crucial signs being broadcast to him, from Dick's command performance. This missing awareness went all the way up the chain of command to Westmoreland, himself. If that blindness and deafness could have been dealt with, America could have won that conflict, at least for the time being.  Instead, our leaders became fixated on stupid stuff, which had no logical basis in the reality. Lazzell somehow found his niche in this mindset, but Dick did not. It seemed as though the higher numbers of enemy dead, produced by Lazzell, was the drug which senior command was addicted to and Lazzell was their go-to guy for a fix, so they kept him in the lead. As with all addictions, however, this one assured it's "little man" victims of two things. The first was that they would want more and more of the same drug and secondly they would continually, to their shame, make wrong choices, leading them away, instead of toward a cure for their tactical disabilities. A one sentence analysis of "little men" is this. They think of themselves as peasants, who are in constant need of opportunities, to impress royalty. Dick, on the other hand, never thought of himself as anything but a free man, who was no more or no less than any other human on earth. This mindset allowed him to be the same man, whether standing in the presence of Westmoreland or a grunt like me.

     I have said what I just said to begin trying to paint a truthful picture of Dick's situation, at the beginning of Operation Billings. Although, dick was not just a good commander but one of the best to ever come down the "pike" it mattered not. Truth was, by enabling us to become good jungle fighters, Dick, himself, had become "stuck". At this stage of Dick’s time in country, it was pretty much a given, that the great combat unit, which Dick had built, in only three months, would remain untested and on the sidelines, for the remainder of Dick's time as her commander. If that had happened, we grunts would have been much better for it, but Dick's part to play in advancing the much larger legacy of Henrietta King would not have been "better-off". Had Dick been left on the sidelines, his future influence would have been greatly diminished. He most surely would not have gained the battlefield credits necessary, to propel him high enough in rank, to affect the rescue of another great leader's military career. That leader, whose career Dick later rescued, was Norman Schwarzkopf. Schwarzkopf's career had been sidelined, when four star general Richard Cavazos strongly recommended to Norman's boss that he pick him to lead the Grenada Campaign and the rest is history. However, this chain of events was not to be, because Dick was not predisposed to do anything to change his present standing in the eyes of his superiors. If he had, it would most certainly have required him to perform "little man" stunts, which were out of character for him. He was just too "big" to fit through that "little man" door. Dick was not a person, who needed to prove anything to anyone and he certainly would not have considered pulling off stunts which would have required the shedding of more of our blood. It is easy now to see the irony. The character traits, which gave him the attributes of a great leader, at the same time, were the very reasons, why he would never be given the opportunity, to become that leader. Other battalion commanders, like Lazzell, would continue to mindlessly make "knee jerk" decisions, which nevertheless fit the predominantly "little man" way of doing business in the First Infantry Division. Therefore, commanders like Lazzell would continue to be given the lead, while Dick's remaining short three months would end, leaving his career to fizzle, before he could be positioned to make his God ordained mark on the world stage. Of course, he did make that mark, but I very much doubt that Dick ever realized how or why that happened. As far as Dick was concerned, he was completely content with himself. In a phone conversation, he once described his promotion to four star general, as "A Moon Shot". You see, many times we write off the workings of heaven as "mere chance". I cringed when Dick made this remark. I wanted to say, "No Dick; it was not a moon shot. Instead, you were made a part of God's grander picture, which is too large for any human eye to fully behold and you were made part of it because of your love for your fellow man. Mediocrity and chance are not descriptive words, which can be used in the same breath with "divine legacy", although these words may seem completely appropriate when events are viewed by only the human part of us. During Operation Billings, the hand of God would turn the tables and create a much greater opportunity for Dick, than he could ever have imagined, and it was not done, to increase Dick's own personal good fortunes. It was done, to enhance God's kingdom. The Holy Spirit would open that door for Dick, and He would do this by using the grunts, whom Dick had led so well. Of course, I like to think that The Holy Spirit also used the lowest ranking grunt in the entire 1/18th Infantry Battalion, to be the first to crack open that door, but I'll let the reader be the judge of that, as I finish telling the rest the story.