Exert 3 -  Little Men Big Men


      The focus of this next chapter touches on a human characteristic, which I believe defines many misguided leaders.

      On the 13th, while we stayed behind, pulling base security in those same “scorpion infested” bunkers at Lai Khe, Lazzell's "Rangers" joined Operation Billings and took a fifteen-minute chopper ride to make an air assault into cleared jungle northeast of Lai Khe, in what war planners labeled War Zone D. The clearing in the middle of thick triple canopy jungle was named LZ (Landing Zone) Rufe. This operation would be Lazzell's last trial by fire. If one counts the painful surgery and recovery time, after receiving his disabling elbow wound, he had spent almost twice as long in a mind rending environment, as the average American officer, in Vietnam would spend. 

       As brave and as determined to lead a combat unit, as he was, however, Lazzell was a misguided leader of men. Now, a misguided leader displays the fact that they are misguided in many ways, but one of those manifestations is found in the development of what has been described as "little man syndrome". My Vietnam saga led me across the path of a handful of men under six feet tall, who were nevertheless "big men", but Lazzell was not one of them. Lt. Col. Cavazos was under six feet, but he was a "big man". General DePuy was under six feet, but he was a "big man". The tall handsome General Hay, though lacking the instinctive qualities it took to understand jungle fighting, was a "big man". On the other hand, Westmoreland was tall and handsome but as little as little could be. Junior officers were probably a 50% mix.  One of my company commanders, Brown was little, while the other, Watts Caudill, was a "big man". However, Lazzell, as a battlefield commander, was tiny. You see, "Little man syndrome" is a malady, which causes it’s victims, to continually measure themselves by this world's standards. To gain statue in their own minds "little men" believe it's necessary to gain the approval of those around them, whom they perceive to be greater than themselves. However, they place very little value in seeking the approval of The God of heaven, Who is the greatest of all. This errant mindset can put them on one dead-end path after another, desperately holding on to each successive path, until it either crumbles to dust in front of their very eyes or death finds them. There is no lasting peace for a "little man". He is never comfortable with himself, or with anyone else, for that matter, especially those, whom he perceives, to be beneath him.

        In Lazzell's case, his "little man" ways continually created more problems, than he could clearly think through. That is why he had gotten wounded in the elbow, in the first place. Shortly before making this air assault into "LZ Rufe", he had assembled his men and bragged to them about his "Rangers" logging more continuous time in the field than any other Army unit had ever logged in Vietnam. He did not realize that his motivation for making this morale destroying statement was to ease his own feelings of inadequacy and had nothing to do with making his troops feel better. All they needed to hear from him, was what an excellent job they had done, in the face of some long, grueling and dangerous hours in the field. But "little men" do not think like that. Lazzell was too overwhelmed, looking for ways to lift himself out of the quagmire of "self-doubt", to truly worry about the plight of his men. By this time, every "ole guy" in Lazzell's unit knew that when they took a walk in the jungle with Rufus, more than likely, quite a few would not be coming back. Why, in the world, would they want to make that walk longer instead of shorter? After he made this statement, is there any wonder that there was low murmuring and cussing under his men's breath, much to Lazzell's out-of-touch surprise? What they really heard from Lazzell was this. "I will run this unit into the ground and get as many of my men killed as necessary, as long as it elevates me in the eyes of myself and my superiors." Years later, before I knew his name, I remember thinking to myself how fortunate I was to have had Cavazos as my commander, instead of the man who commanded the 1/16th Infantry. Cruelty is also often the companion of the "little man" and berating a subordinate publicly in front of that person's peers is not only cruel but very destructive to any organization. It not only injects paralyzing fear and anger into the hearts of subordinates, but it reflects on a leader, himself, since he is responsible for every action of every person under his supervision. Yet, years later, I have learned that Lazzell publicly berated one of his fallen platoon leaders in the worst conceivable way, by calling him a criminal in front of the entire battalion. The truth was, like a chip off the "ole block", the untested and inexperienced platoon leader had gotten himself and most of his men killed, while imitating Lazzell's very own example, which was to rush forward in first contact with the enemy, before logically thinking things through. By trashing this poor fellow, in front of his men, Lazzell was really trashing his own standing as their leader.

       Here is a final note on this malady. It predisposes it's victim to continually jump at superficial ways to prove that they are doing a decent job, masking their feelings of inadequacy. However, these feelings still exist, severely hampering the ability to tackle real problems as they arise. A "little man" continually knee jerks, making bad judgments. Bad judgments lead to bad decisions, which have destructive consequences. Those consequences are then magnified when an organization is under some type of outside pressure. In 1967 Vietnam, there was no greater outside pressure on a leader in The Big Red One, than that created in the crucible of jungle warfare. However, having said what I have just said, it’s only fair for me to ask myself what the reader may already be asking. "What gives me the right qualifications, to criticize any leader, anywhere, in any endeavor, since I have never been one, myself? It's true. On June 13th, 1967, while Lazzell was just four days away from getting his men shot to pieces for the last time, I was one of the lowest ranking grunts in the First Infantry Division. I also went on to become a college dropout, who would never be given a leadership role of any kind, during my entire life. In other words, I would always be a grunt. So, again, what gives me the audacity to think that I can accurately access the mental condition of others who have strived to achieve a lot more in life than I? The answer to that question may come as a surprise to the reader. You see, I have the ability to understand "little man syndrome" so well, because I was one. Before I submitted my mind to be conformed to the mind of Christ, not only was I a "little man", but my affliction was so severe, that I could easily have been mistaken for a "Lilliputian".

      It had been a little more than three months since Cavazos took over. That was a lifetime in Vietnam. Still, we seemed to find ourselves, as a unit, being used more in reserve positions and supporting roles, than was the case with the other eight battalions in the Division. This was understandable while Denton was in command. I believe his "tired" performance caused us to be left on the sidelines during the initial thrust at the beginning of Operation Junction City. I cannot remember a single time that Denton had us dig a fox hole according to S.O.P. Supply problems abounded. We got no hot meals, except during our rare visits to home base at Di An. Sometimes we lacked even an adequate supply of drinking water. Looking back now I see a commander, who more than likely was burned out and also in an occupation not suited for his personality in the first place. Denton was brave. He won a silver star during the Battle of Pork Chop Hill in Korea. However, that was not the only trait required to make a battalion commander successful at jungle fighting. Senior officers weakened us even more. They should have been able to spot the difference between a field commander like Dick Cavazos and Rufus Lazzell almost instantly, yet they couldn't. They were just as apt to keep a field commander who didn't have the right stuff as they were to get rid of one who did. The entire culture of the Big Red One was wrong. There should have been no shaming or retribution, but there was. Senior leaders should have been more forthright but non-prejudicial toward those who's personalities were not suited to managing a combat unit. America has always needed logistical coordinators, like Eisenhower, as well as "hammering" combat geniuses like Patton. God creates many personalities, and our military needs them all, then and now. Although Denton was removed from his last combat command, after only two months, he went on to prove that he was no "little man". His removal freed him to begin developing his true gifting in technology, which later contributed greatly to his nation as well as giving him the standing needed to become a enlightened and significant role model for his community.      

     Logic said that there was no reason for senior leadership to pick Lazzell instead of Cavazos, on the 13th of June, to join Operation Billings. Dick had a proven track record in Korea. Lazzell had no previous combat experience until Vietnam. Maybe the reason for picking Lazzell over Dick was because Lazzell came across as hard nosed toward the handling of his men. The 1/16th had just broken the record for time spent in the field and the men were "bone tired" from doing that. We, on the other hand, had pulled rear guard for some time now and were much more rested. Yet, the brass picked Lazzell to take the lead again. Why wasn't he given these last few days to unwind and process out? Yet, once again the 1/16th was thrust into the heart of the operation, and we were left behind. It wasn't a logical move. 

      At this point the "frozen in time" Division commander Hay was largely blind to what Dick had accomplished in the months, leading up to Operation Billings. He wasn't able to appreciate the subtle nuances of command required to successfully transform a fighting unit, engaged in jungle warfare. It was these nuances which won or lost battles long before the shooting started. General Hay was one of the few generals who was actually concerned with details, except those details, which concerned him, had no basis in the present reality. Maybe, he let his tired "ole" World War II way of thinking cloud his mind or maybe it was Westmoreland who was clouding his thinking. It's true that Westmoreland did not think he was aggressive enough in his pursuit of "body counts". You see, "Little men" often fixate on the most shocking thing, the most publically notable thing, and most of all, the thing which catches a favorable response from the boss, and for Westmoreland it was "body counts". The evidence showed that by now Dick had turned us into the best line unit in the Division. This is not only my assessment, but the assessment of others at Division headquarters. No one, and I mean no one could beat Dick in his ability to maneuver and coordinate covering fires. He didn't look at rank so much as he looked at who could get the job done. A good spotter for calling in artillery or air strikes could be anyone, as far as Dick was concerned. He could be a point man, an RTO, an FO, a squad leader, or a company commander, just to name a few. It mattered not to Dick. Just get the job done. We had a lot of people who were good at what they did, but we also had some bad ones. Dick was quick to recognize the difference and he didn't hesitate to make the bad ones go away, no matter what their position. A very under rated and unnoticed improvement made by Dick was in our "housekeeping". Yes, that is exactly what I said, and I know that can sound trivial to naive minds. "What in the world" could that have to do with anything? Well, let me define "housekeeping" and how "good house keeping" can have a much desired effect on the fighting ability of a combat unit. Our DePuy bunkers were our homes away from home, and very shortly after Dick arrived they were "fitted out" to meet "Dick's "good house keeping" seal of approval". He did this by making some simple changes, which allowed us to build these fortifications much faster and much stronger. How did he do that? Well, I am glad you asked. Dick had our supply sergeant reconnoiter and secure two "very important homemaker tools" called mattocks and Marston matting. The mattocks allowed us to bust up hard laterite ground at least three times faster than with just the use of an entrenching tool alone. Marston matting was a 10 foot by 15 inch wide steel plank which was excellent for supporting sandbags, on our overhead cover. These planks made a much stronger covering to protect against mortar attacks. They were heavy so they were flown out to us by Chinooks. Their use also meant that we did not have to spend valuable time and energy chopping down small trees for overhead supports. The time and energy saved here was invaluable. We could finish our bunkers much quicker, allowing us more time to chop firing lanes, run trip flares and claymore mines. It also meant that we were not as tired and thus more alert, when it was our turn to go on patrols. The number of mishaps were also reduced by the use of these simple articles. A tired soldier did not have to swing a machete for hours, increasing the risk of missing his mark and chopping into a leg bone.  Many units used C-4 explosives and hand grenades to soften up the ground for digging. How dangerous was that?

      In my studies of other units, in the Division, it has become apparent  to me that many of their patrols were enticed into walking trails. Dick was adamant, about never walking on trails. This meant that our regular grunt patrols experienced fewer surprise encounters with the enemy and/or their booby traps. Yes, it is true. Dick had been blessed with some proficient people, none finer than C company NCOs, Robert O'Brien, Pat McLaughlin, and point man Tom Mercer. I believe Walker was the best "thump gunner" in the Division and our weapons platoon people were top rate, especially the big Indian machine gunner from the Nations. Dick was also blessed with recon platoon people who were "ghosts". In all my interviews and written reports, chronicling events during Dick's tour of duty, I could not find a single remark about these guys. It's as though they never existed. Believe it or not, that speaks volumes about this "little band of searchers" because a recon platoon's primary duty was to seek-out information about the enemy and not be seen while doing so. Yet, these guys were really not "specters". They were flesh and blood like the rest of us. Their leadership obviously had something to do with their success. Their platoon leader Lieutenants were volunteers who had been scrutinized while commanding a line platoon, by our keen-eyed battalion commander.

      A Hot meal in the field was another especially crucial factor, in keeping up morale of any unit. Dick expanded the one hot meal a day to include dehydrated vegetable beef soup and fresh hot donuts in the morning. Most battalions were fortunate to get one hot meal a day, but I have never read about a single Vietnam veteran getting “piping” hot donuts, airfreighted to him in the in the middle of the jungle every morning. However, we did. Yes, it's true. They were not good for a young man's long-term health, but they were "gooood" not only for boosting morale, but also for giving us the "sugar high" we needed, to carry an extra 80 pounds of gear in sweltering 95-degree temperatures. Clean fatigues also started being supplied to us more regularly after Operation Junction City. No doubt, Dick had a hand in that. It is surprising what Dick could get our people in the rear to do just by expressing to their face what an an important part of the war he thought they were. This tact worked much better than treating us like we were new recruits in basic training.                      

      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 benefits 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 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, as I helped unload a Chinook helicopter. 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 brigade commander, or maybe general Hay, himself, by suggesting he use us as bait, instead of meekly going along with a more "hair brained" idea that he had cooked up in his own head.  Dick had the kind of persuasiveness, coupled with the command ability to pull off such stunts, tucked away in his repertoire of tricks, perhaps hiding there from his last war. In any case, at this point, we grunts would have rather been used as bait by Dick, than sitting safely at a large base camp, under the leadership of any other battalion commander.

     Whether seen through the eyes of other grunts, or through my own eyes, years later, our conclusions wound up being very similar. I have never ran across a grunt or officer from my old unit who didn't think Dick was the "real deal". Yes, 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, but they do tend to flock together and sing the same song. Usually, it's a song which has nothing to do with the present reality.  I believe 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. Perhaps the higher numbers of enemy dead, produced by Lazzell, was the drug which senior command was addicted to and Lazzell was their 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.  

      On the 13th, when Lazzell landed at LZ Rufe, his Rangers were unopposed. However, intelligence reports had made it noticeably clear that the 271st NVA regiment had not only been completely rebuilt, after the battle of Ap Gu, two and a half months before, but had now moved many miles further south using numerous base camps, as staging areas to mount an attack on the large American base at Phuoc Vinh. The area was crawling with enemy patrols as evidenced by the large number of small unit contacts. Other American units, like Jack Toomey's 1/2nd, had air assaulted into an area several klicks S.E. of LZ  Rufe the day before. Toomey arrived in the operational area, just after sheets of rain had finished dowsing the landing zone with a heavy down pour.

      Lazzell was placed in overall command of both his own unit and also the Black Lions, who landed after his unit landed. They were commanded by LTC Jerry Edwards. That night the Black Lions had two ambush patrols make contact with enemy patrols. This, in itself, should have been a red flag to all field grade officers in the unit, because it was rare for even one "night ambush patrol" to make contact, much less two. Next morning newly minted Buck sergeant, Greg Murray, and his A company made a sweep one thousand meters to the west of their NDP, then turned southeast to go another thousand meters. The fog from the light drizzling rain during the night gradually lifted, allowing bright shooting rays of sunlight to pierce open areas in the overhead canopy, which then brightly illuminating patches of jungle flooring below. At 1215 hrs., one of Murray's machine gunners, Jose Garcia, was at the right place, in the line of march, to catch a glimpse of five VC congregating in one of those bright patches of sunlight, just ahead of him. They were startled by the approaching Americans and wasted no time scattering into the darker jungle foliage around them. Jose squeezed off several three round bursts, in their direction, shooting from his hip, before his gun jammed. None of the runners went down.

      Two hours later, as Murry's A company was finishing it's sweep and returning to the NDP, Murray could hear gun fire in the Jungle to the west. Capt. Ulm's B company was coming under some small arms fire, as they made a sweep about 1800 meters west of Murray and the NDP.  Earlier, the 271st NVA field commander had his sappers determine the direction of B company's march, shortly after they left their NDP perimeter that morning. American formations hardly ever changed course on a sweep. Instead of zigzagging, Ulm was forced to follow First Division S.O.P. requiring the time-consuming clover leaf tactic. Now, not only did the enemy know the general direction that B Company was traveling, but just as with the battle of Prek Klok I, their slow clover leaf tactics gave the enemy plenty of time to choose and prepare a good ambush site. As in the battle of Prek Klok I and Ap Gu, this commander used his savvy sapper teams to herd the "brown uniformed deplorables" into position. They again would do the dirty work of charging the flanks. What did it matter that some would be blown apart by artillery fire or killed by their own crossfire, from the other flank? A communist commander had no messy human rights laws to stymie his tactical imagination, on the battlefield. While training the constant resupply of young bodies in brutal training camps, it was completely permissible for Thanh's subordinates to publicly execute one or two of these conscripts now and again. The resulting message of fear loosed by those summary executions clamped down hard on any freewheeling thoughts the rest of these unfortunate souls might be having, concerning the part they were expected to play in this war. Ironically, in most conscripts, this fearful type of treatment produced the very desirable effect of splitting the soul, and redirecting the fear for their communist henchmen, into the outward motivation to perform all types of self-willed maniacal atrocities against us Americans and the South Vietnamese people. Later, leftist media organizations across the globe would gloss over the hard cold facts, pertaining to the realities of life, under the totalitarian rule of a communist government like North Vietnam. When referring to these fighters against freedom, they would use descriptive words and phrases like 'well disciplined", "committed", "experienced", 'legendary", "seasoned", "storied", "highly motivated", "brave liberators" and "best soldiers in the world". One such leftist leaning reporter compared Ho Chi Minh to George Washington. In fact, well over 90% of Thanh's forces were nothing more than terrorized teenagers, who had quickly fallen prey to a psychosis known as "Stockholm Syndrome". Only a small percentage, which included the sappers teams and local communist party members, were true believers.    

      The amount of initial incoming fire indicated that B company had made contact, with a much smaller force than was actually the case. So, Ulm followed S.O.P. and withdrew his men a safe distance anyway and then called for a good artillery shelling of the area. In less than 20 minutes, the shelling to his front was finished and Ulm started moving forward again. Unfortunately, he never changed directions to elude an ambush and even while he was still calling in artillery to protect the front of his column, the enemy commander was funneling his "deplorables" down both flanks. Soon, Ulm found himself boxed in and taking tremendous fire from three sides. It was now obvious that Ulm was up against a much larger force, than indicated by the initial contact. Needless to say, things got messy. B company started taking casualties. Two "dust-offs" (medevac) were damaged, by enemy gun fire, while trying to reach the wounded. Air strikes were requested, but were all but useless, because of Thanh's technique of holding on so tight to the enemy's belt, preventing fire support from killing his troops without killing Americans as well. It was now again up to Captain Ulm's veteran gun slingers in B company to come through for him just as they had in the battle of Prek Klok I, and so they did. The shootout lasted four and a half hours. After it was over, once again the air force would receive most of the credit for saving the day, but was that really the truth? Although the air force may have killed their share, who strayed further back from the point of contact, in this case, it was captain Ulm's veterans, who methodically whittled down the enemy attackers all afternoon, thus saving themselves. The air force did do its part by making it impossible for the enemy commander to assemble fresh troops to throw into the fight. B company lost only six men killed and 15 wounded during this very long battle, which is a real testament to the truth of my description of the fire fight and the skill exhibited by Captain Ulm and his boys in B Company. Official enemy loses were sixty killed, but it is easy for anyone with half a brain to realize that finding and counting bodies in thick jungle is not an easy task. Enemy losses could have easily been double that number. Did these losses phase Thanh and his field commander? Absolutely not. There was an almost endless supply of replacements flowing down the Ho Chi Minh Trial, as this battle progressed. Oh, how nice it was for a hater like Thanh to have complete control over whether or not his fellow countrymen took their next breath, with no negative consequences to himself, either way. Thus ended the Battle of Xom Bo I.

      The next couple days saw the Rangers and the Black Lions making company size sweeps, which resulted in no large scale enemy contact. On the 16th of June, Sgt. Murry was enlisted to use his skill with explosives to clear an area near LZ Rufe of trees. This was done to make the enemy believe that another LZ was going to be created, for more troop landings. It was a naive ploy, at best. Sappers, watching from their perches in the 150 Ft. tall trees around him, monitored and reported on Murry's progress. They also maintained "high perch" positions in several trees, surrounding LZ Rufe, with standing orders to report back on any changes in troop movements in and out of LZ Rufe's perimeter. The enemy didn't care how much work we Americans did, in the meantime, while they waited for their next opportunity to attack. They already knew that we Americans didn't "stay put" anywhere, for more than a few days, so Thanh's field commander "settled in" on a tentative plan to watch and wait for the "tactically challenged" Americans to make a mistake, either extracting troops or bringing more in. As they watched and waited, there were always side shows to behold, like Murry was putting on for them now. At this moment, Murry was moving from tree to tree in the false LZ, placing his C-4 charges, as the engineers, working with him linked them together with long strings of detonator chord. The explosions caused every tree to collapse at once, but it also did something else. The violence of the explosions shook the ground in the clearing around Murry. That upset every colony of black ants in the entire clearing. These were the same kind of ants which welcomed me to Vietnam on my first patrol. They could sting and bite and they now went after Murry, as he began to place his explosive blocks of C-4 on his next line of trees. Both Murry and his engineer friends were now having to jump up and down to shake off the furious little beasts, before they found a patch of bare skin to sting and bite. About fifty yards inside the wood line and sitting high up in his jungle perch, there was a sapper, clutching a Russian carbine, and watching the show. I can imagine him lazily sighting his rifle in on Murry and thinking what fun it would be to nail him, at the top of his jump, just to watch him crumble to the ground. However, that would be very foolish, and he knew it. If he did that, he would be doing the same thing the Americans were doing with the ants. However, instead of stirring up an ant's nest, he would be stirring up a hornet's nest and these hornets had five-hundred-pound bombs for stingers. So, he lazily yawned, laid his rifle back across his lap and continued watching the antics.

     Also, on the 16th, while the engineers were working to improve the clearing for landing large helicopters at LZ X-Ray, one of their security teams got into a fire fight with a small number of "black pajama sappers" on the northern end of the clearing. Their security patrol had run into them just inside the wood line. The sappers were there to observe the engineers and also to familiarize themselves with routes to the clearing. In case of a later attack, they would then become guides for the brown uniformed deplorables. No American was hurt during the fire fight, and the sappers withdrew a short safe distance, knowing that this group of engineers would not follow. This enemy contact was most certainly reported to Lazzell. The engineers finished their work and were flown back to Lai Khe that afternoon, probably never realizing the extreme danger they were in, during their time spent in the clearing. Fortunately for them, Thanh's field commander had bigger game in his sights.

      On the 13th, the 1/28th Infantry Battalion had discovered a huge regimental size base camp with 150 unmanned bunkers, just south of LZ Rufe. Actually, this was only one of many hidden unmanned base camps. They were scattered from this current area of operation, throughout War Zone C and D, all the way to the Cambodian border and beyond. Local VC units were placed in charge of guarding and maintaining them. The very next day after having his ranks thinned by Captain Ulm, Thanh's field commander, Colonel Vo Minh Triet, had already received more khaki uniformed conscripts just hours later, coming from another hidden base camp just north of his current position. They had previously been "hop scotched" toward the general Phuoc Vinh area day after day, from training camps just over the Cambodian border. Now they waited in these bunkered camps scattered throughout the area to become replacements, as needed, like pawns on a chess board. NVA units did not need to hike all the way back across the Cambodian border to replenish themselves. If they were somehow shot to pieces by us Americans, the supply chain was constantly being resupplied with warm bodies from other nearby camps. This logistical tactic continually ensured the staffing and resupply of the ninth division in a very timely manner. I reiterate, that these were not hard-core troops, but inexperienced young rice farmers from up North. In this way, staffing and resupplying the 271st NVA Regiment, taking only hours, not months. It was not as easy to make up loses in the ranks of the sappers, like the one watching Murry do his little dance routine with the ants. As with American special forces, those were composed of more highly trained and motivated people. Most of them were "true believers" who had drunk the cool aid of the poisonous Marxist ideology. They were also much harder to replace. For the most part, though, it was as if Triet had not lost a single man in the shootout with Ulm. By the time the next battle on June 17th rolled around, he was fully staffed and ready to go.

      I don't think most American Generals had much, if any understanding, of the battlefield that was Vietnam. If they had, they would have soon realized that the strategy of attrition actually worked in favor of the communist, instead of us. The communist mindset is not one which is simply programed to endure high losses of human life, but is one which many times delights in those losses. Many times those losses are looked upon as a purge of the weak and undesirable. Westmoreland probably went to his death thinking he knew and understood. However, he didn't know and he certainly didn't understand. In 1974 he revealed his willful and continued ignorance, when he made the following remark. "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. We value life and human dignity. They don't care about life and human dignity". That statement couldn't be further from the truth. To the contrary, here is the truth, which Westmoreland refused to see. Without "the love of God" which is placed in a believer's heart, at the time we become "born of the spirit" then there is no light whatsoever, giving the rest of humanity the ability to see a viable path forward, to care for others, even when the desire is there. In Vietnam It was the communist ideology, not race or culture, which shrouded the light of God's love, causing such indifference to human suffering. Under a government, which supports the rights of its citizens to worship as they please, that light is allowed to shine forth, but not so under Marxism. Also, the very nature of Marxism ensures that only sociopaths will rise through the ranks to the most powerful positions in government. If Westmoreland had understood this truth, perhaps his mind would have been more open to a very different strategy, one which may have won the war. Instead, he latched on to his simplistic and morbid "body count" strategy with such blind resolve, that it shocked even the natural senses of average Americans.    

       The decision was made by brigade, that on the morning of June 17th, the two battalions under Lazzell's command would move by foot to another clearing 1500 meters north, which had been prepared for them the day before, by Captain Pascareli's C company, of the 1st engineering Battalion. Those engineers had blasted down trees, in the destination at LZ X-Ray to make sure resupply helicopters could land safely. This work occurred at the same time that Murry and another group of engineers from this engineering battalion were clearing trees in the false LZ. Tree top sappers were watching all these LZs closely and reporting back to Triet, who was nearby, coordinating attack plans, as circumstances unfolded. His sappers and NVA planners used como wire strung to various relay points to communicate faster. Registration rounds had already been fired, marking key strike locations at LZ X-Ray. These mortar teams were hidden deep within the triple canopy jungle surrounding the clearing. The arrival of the engineers on the morning of the 16th, at LZ X-Ray, did nothing, but reinforce the fact, that Triet needed to continue preparing this 500-meter-long clearing for an ambush. He was certainly not fooled by the creation of Murry's false LZ. It was just too small for landing a sizable unit in a timely fashion. However, the large LZ at X-RAY was a more likely landing spot and Triet knew that. He needed to be ready to greet the Americans if and when they arrived. There were more communication wires to be run and more tree-stand positions to be established for spotters and snipers. Ox cart trails leading into the clearing had to be clearly marked for sappers, who would be guiding largely clueless khaki uniformed conscripts to "close in" assembly points just off these trails. From there they would charge the Americans, at the sound of a whistle. If they assembled too far out, the first barrages of American artillery might wipe them out before they could make these suicidal advances. Also, if the Americans prepped the jungle around the clearing, before landing helicopters, that would also hamper Triet's plans. The bombing would disrupt recognizable landscape around troop assembly points and destroy como wired communication lines and booby traps. It could cause Triet to call off the ambush altogether. Nevertheless, the ambush preparations had to be started, whether the ambush was actually carried out or not. It made no difference. Cancelations of evolving tactical plans, like this, happened all the time. It was to be expected. The effort was good training and would not be wasted no matter whether he pulled it off or had to wait for a more opportune time. As he went about his duties, Triet thought to himself, "What more purposeful labor and death could these rice farmers be called upon to perform, than that which contributed to the goal of forging a utopian state?" "True believer Triet", himself had not slept in a real bed since 1961. He had been exposed to death many times as he rose in the ranks of the communist party. It was exciting. However, in the communist hierarchy, he was still far enough removed from personal contact with top leadership, like the pedophile Ho Chi Minh, and the murderous Mr. Duan, to have his idealism shattered by too close an association with these twisted minds. In a sick way, Triet's train of thought was spot on. It wasn't as if these deplorables would ever live in an environment, which would allow them to fiddle with a television in their garage, and maybe someday turn it into a communication device which would change the world for the better. Heck, they didn't even have garages, or televisions. When those technologies did finally show up, they would come from protected minds, which lived under the rule of righteous laws enforced by freedom loving societies and not tyrannical dictatorships, like those metastasized by the cancerous Marxist ideology. A Marxist is forced to steal their technology because murderous thoughts and creative thoughts do not mix well in the same brain. All these "deplorables" had left of any permanent value in their brief lives, as they huddled in hidden bunkers surrounding LZ X-Ray, was a small twinkling light coming from the love in their hearts, for family and ancestors. These ancestors, had never been anything but rice farmers, themselves and it was a sure bet, that Triet felt nothing but distain for them as well as their offspring, whom he now held in his grasp to do his bidding.          

      Dawn appeared at LZ Rufe, on the 17th day of June 1967, through a low hanging mist, penetrated by tiny droplets of drizzling rain. Soon after first light, Triet started receiving reports from his scouts, that something unusual was happening with the Americans he was shadowing. As he sat under a wet canopy, listening to more and more of these same reports, coming from his wired communications and now also from the lips of a "runner", it became obvious that today was going to be very different. He would have to continue to hide and keep watching to see just how different, but the events of this day were definitely not going to be like the day before. The messages were all saying the same thing. The Americans at LZ Rufe were filling in their bunkers and emptying sandbags. This was a clear indication that they were going to make a permanent withdrawal from LZ Rufe. What Triet needed to know now was how would they withdraw and where would they go? Would they withdraw by helicopter or by foot? Would they go home or move to another location? He knew withdrawals deep in the jungle were usually always made by helicopters, supported by a lot of covering artillery fires and gunships. This usually meant that while troops were loading, air strikes would also be blasting his potential troop assembly areas around the extraction point. If this was going to be the case, it wasn't a good scenario for Triet. Quite frankly, it would be better for him to keep hiding and watching for a better day. Shortly after 0700 hours, however, Triet received the news, which he had dared hope for, but thought would never happen. It was almost too good to be true news. American troops were assembling at the northern end of LZ Rufe and marching single file into the jungle. Triet's best trackers were soon on the job, verifying the direction and pace of these troops. It seemed as if they were indeed heading for the large clearing 1500 meters to the north (LZ-X-Ray). If that was true, Triet realized he now had the better part of three hours to position ambush assault units around the clearing. The silly clover-leafing maneuvers of the Americans actually made Triet's tracking job much easier and also gave him more time.

      Without realizing it, Lazzell had now given Triet all the information he needed to set in motion an attack. He began to put his attack plans into high gear, being careful not to move his troops in, too close, too quick, before American air strikes and artillery had finished prepping the area. This is where the ox cart trails would come in handy. They were wide enough to move his troops quickly, after holding them back at a safer distance, until the Americans had finished shelling and bombing the jungle around the perimeter of LZ X-Ray. When the shelling stopped, double columns of his deplorables could be "double timed" down these wider trails, until they reached marked areas around the perimeter. The markings were in the form of shallow fox holes, which had already been dug several days before, not only to act as markers, letting the guides know where to halt and start dispersing the troops, but also to give these "brown uniformed deplorables" a little protection from rifle fire, coming from the Americans, as well as their own machine guns, firing from behind them. This was a tactical maneuver, which these troops had practiced doing over and over. Some carried RPGs and were taught to target American machine gun crews. Today, two of those American machine gunners would be Sergeant Murry's men, Jose Garcia and Bob Pointer. Enemy RPG teams would watch and wait for these machine gunners to start killing "deplorables". When they opened up, it was easy to spot their location, because they were required to fire "here I am tracers" every fifth round. Once the masses of conscripts were spread out from the ox cart trails into these shallow fox-hole locations, life was reduced to two choices for them. When the whistles blew, signaling for an assault to be made, they could either rise up and make the suicidal assault or be shot dead by their own NCOs. At the same time that the whistles blew the alert NVA machine gunners would stop firing so they wouldn't shoot these conscripts in the back. Field telephone communications would also notify the mortar crews to stop firing. Simply put, Triet's dehumanized outfit was taught to perform like a well-oiled "Borg" machine, devoid of all human feelings for the wellbeing of the individual. It was only the collective will, which mattered.

      In comparison to Triet's command presence, it was as if Lazzell had just stepped off a plane at Tan Son Nhut Airport the day before, not as a "green jungle fighter" but as a civilian. After gleaning through report, after report, on the battle of Xom Bo II, I could hardly believe what I was reading. I have no personal bias toward anyone or anything here. I am just stating facts, from the perspective a soldier who was actually there on that battlefield, in hopes that some "up and coming" young leader, who takes the time to read this, will be able to glean a useful lesson from it. I couldn't find a single report of this battle, which reflected well upon Lazzell. Unlike Cavazos, or Haig, or Triet, for that matter, there was no indication that Lazzell had any ability, whatsoever, to anticipate what needed to be done next, nor did he ever learn to read clues which could indicate what the enemy was likely to do next. By this time, he had been in more engagements, than any other field officer would ever see, while serving in the First Division, during the Vietnam era. Yet, he seemed transfixed and unable to understand his role, his men's roles, or how his enemy operated, to any greater extent, then he did on the first day he took command. As he faced his last battle before DEROS, it was not only, as if he had learned nothing in the past year, but it was blatantly obvious that he didn't think that he needed to learn anything. By this point, he had convinced himself that he had arrived, as the embodiment, of what a field commander should be. this is a typical end-point in the behavior pattern for "Little Men" if they are allowed to remain in a position of leadership. The solution is to remove them from that position as soon as they are diagnosed with the malady until they can be rehabilitated.  

      Here are some more reasons why I say what I have just said. First off, the lineup for the march from LZ Rufe to LZ X-Ray was all wrong on several counts. Murry's 1/16th Rangers A company led the march to the new location. Lazzell and headquarters followed. Captain Ulm's B company was next, while the very experienced First Lt. Doug Logan's recon platoon was sandwiched in behind their own Battalion and B Company of the Black Lions, who were bringing up the rear. This line-up immediately brings to mind a disturbing question. Why would Lazzell place his most capable troops, which was the recon unit, in the middle of the line of march? Instead, his recon should have been sent out, at first light, to scout the route ahead of the line of march. (Hench the name "recon".) Also, long before making the move, they should have already scouted and reported back to Lazzell, with a diagram of the area around LZ-X-Ray. That would have given Lazzell the "lay of the land", so to speak, so he could have already had his artillery people target critical locations with registration rounds long before the march began. A good time to have done that would have been on the day, that those brave engineers were busy in the clearing, blowing up trees and making room for supply helicopters to land. Here is another glaring error. B company of the 2/28th Black Lions marched out that morning at the rear of the Rangers, but their A Company was made to wait, until B company had arrived at the destination, three hours later, before they were allowed to moved out. How foolish was that? It was 1030 hours, before FO David Hearne and company left LZ Rufe. As a side note, their point man got them lost, along the way. First Lt. Hearne was a forward observer attached to this particular Black Lions A company and later wrote a book about the battle. David recorded various conversations with the men, who were there that day. There was no indication that it had occurred to Lt. Colonel Lazzell to do any of the preparations, which I just mentioned. I also found it disturbing that Hearne couldn't remember if there had been an early morning pre-march "face to face" meeting between Lazzell and his key people. David and his cohorts were definitely some of those key people. A "face to face" like this was very important, on many levels, before making any type of maneuver. Key subordinates needed to know, in a very personal way, exactly what their leader expected of them, and also how important their function was to the success of that particular undertaking. That message has much more power when communicated face to face. Cavazos understood this. Apple magnet, Steve Jobs, understood this, but Lazzell did not.

      As the forward element approached, the perimeter of LZ X-Ray, they stumbled across a huge warning sign. That warning sign was a well-worn trail discovered just 200 meters from the clearing at LZ X-Ray. Although Lazzell had two recon platoons, which he should have used to scout this area already, this was the first time that he was finding out about this trail. Its obvious, to me now, that this wasn't the first time that Lazzell failed to properly scout an area or ignore warning signs on the battle field. The significance of this find, however, was not lost on Donnie Gunby. Donnie was the country boy grunt in sergeant Murry's 2nd platoon, who found the trail. The trail had been heavily worn down very recently by a lot of heavy foot traffic. Anyone could see that was an important information. With his "mad face" on, however, because he was running behind schedule and was now having to pause again, Lazzell came stomping up to examine the trail for himself. He was visibly irritated about have to halt the column and the sour look on his face silenced everyone's input around him. The toxic attitude behind that sour look also prevented him from performing one of the most critical functions a battlefield commander will ever perform. That function is the ability to allow oneself the time and presence of mind to analyze new data, by first asking a very simple question. That question is "why" and Its the same question every time. Instead of doing that, however, Lazzell became aggravated with everyone around him, for causing him to be behind schedule. Actually being behind schedule was his own fault. Hearne wrote about this incident this way. "The path's discovery caused 2nd platoon to temporarily halt their march so they could investigate their find. They were the lead element which meant the long column of men snaking behind them would be stopped and the men would be wondering what was going on. The column would become one big dangerous traffic jam. The path was reported to their platoon leader, Second Lt. Sermuskis. Once the Lieutenant saw how fresh and used the trail looked, he contacted Captain Williamson, who came strolling up to check out the find. Meanwhile Lieutenant Colonel Lazzell was fuming over the delay in the march. He was pissed-off that the march had halted and wanted to know why in the hell Alpha Company had stopped....Lazzell wasn't alarmed much by the trail but did call in an air strike to the east of LZ X-Ray. The fact that we were a bit behind schedule seemed to bother Lazzell more than the evidence of a large unit's presence."

      If the 1/16th commander had just stopped the fuming long enough to ask himself that "all important" question, "why", then it would have been a first step in having the events of the rest of the day end so much better for our side. Donnie Gunby had already performed his job when he revealed the battlefield evidence to his superiors. He knew, with one glance, that the heavily traveled trail, was a clear indication of a large enemy force lurking nearby. Donnie's ability to do anything, beyond that, however, was nil. This battlefield evidence now needed to be properly addressed by the battalion commander. Unfortunately, it wasn't. At the battle of Ap Gu, Haig had done a splendid job of modeling critical thinking for Lazzell but it was as though Lazzell had napped out during that class. It wasn't and isn't a complicated process. Every great leader does it, multiple times a day, on the smallest, to the largest types of developments. At the time these footprints were made, there was nothing in that clearing which could have possibly interested the enemy. However, the trail was worn down by a large force just hours before any American fighting unit arrived and then they moved on. "Why" would they do that? Were these troops just passing by on the way to a party at Ho Chi Minh's house? The answer to this "why" question was the first step in exercising what I am calling critical thinking. This "why" question was also the most important question of the morning, but Lazzell couldn't let his mind go there. You see, "little men" are usually too busy questioning the actions of themselves and the people they lead, to be able to properly question and process possible answers for the immediate circumstances facing their organization. This is true, whether it be a combat command, a fortune five hundred company , or just a neighborhood homeowner’s association. 

      Here is the answer to that particular "why" question, which Lazzell never ask. After his loses at the Battle of Ap Gu, Triet had been requiring his veterans to train new replacements on the tactical complexities of an attack on potential landing zones in our areas of operation. LZ X-Ray was just one of those potential landing zones. When engineers showed up the day before, to clear away some trees, his hopes were raised, that this particular clearing was soon to be used by an American unit. The well-worn trail indicated a quick "practice run". Triet's brand new replacement conscripts had been led, on this "practice run", by local VC and sapper teams dressed in black. It was a "dry run" which prepared his troops to be ready for an assault, if and when that opportunity presented itself. This "practice run" would have also given Triet a very close estimate of the time needed to coordinate the various stages of a actual assault. At this very critical moment, while the 1/16th commander let himself be mindlessly agitated, the ox cart trail was screaming out the answer to the question he never ask. It was saying, that at this very moment there was an overwhelming number of brown uniformed "deplorables" nearby, waiting to be herded into predetermined positions, by local black pajama "true believers", so they could mount an assault. They would be held back at a safe distance, until such time, as Triet gave the command for the whistles to be blown, ordering them to pounce. Any time now they could come charging down those ox cart trails, as practiced, and start slaughtering Lazzell's men. Too bad, that the stream of conscious conceptualization needed to visualize this very real possibility had been destroyed in the acidic juices of the 1/16th commander's "Little Man " mindset.

      Upon arriving at the clearing a little after 1030 hours, Murry's 1/16th A company skirted the east side of the clearing some 500 meters to the northern most edge, taking up positions from 12 o'clock to 2 o'clock around the perimeter of the clearing. The "Ole War Horse", Captain Ulm and his B company, spread out from 2 o'clock to 4 o'clock on the east side. 2/28 B Company took the western side of the perimeter, tying in with the 1/16th on it's northern flank, and stretching to about the 7 o'clock position in the south. There were so many mistakes made, while trying to establish perimeter lines, I hardly know where to start pointing them out. First off, Lazzell had four companies to cover the entire perimeter. Yet, he divided the spacing of those companies, as though he had all six companies present. Had he forgotten that he left both 1/16th C Company and 2/28th C Company behind at LZ Rufe? To make matters worse, almost as an afterthought, he had his recon platoon fill in the resulting gap on the south side of the perimeter. Their 28 men were given the impossible task of covering an area longer than that which should have been assigned to an entire company. At the battle of Ap Gu, Haig had modeled for Lazzell numerous good decisions, which withstood the test of a ferocious attack. However, it was as if Lazzell had taken no note of that experience, whatsoever. One key factor Lazzell should have taken note of, however, was the benefits gained when Haig held back his recon platoon in reserve, to be used as needed during the heat of battle. 2/28th A company (the company Hearne was attached to) left late, so they arrived late, but they could still have been used to shore of the southern perimeter, freeing up recon to become a standby force as Haig had done at Ap Gu. Instead, A 2/28th Company was ordered to stay within the clearing and spread out to the north behind 2/28th B Company. If attacked, not only would the southern portion of the perimeter be lightly defended, but now A Company would not be able to shoot at an attacking enemy, without putting their own B Company in a crossfire situation. The same thing happened to Murry's platoon on the northern side of the perimeter. His 2nd platoon was placed behind 1st platoon. Haig, on the other hand, in laying out the perimeter at Ap Gu, had had his men establish positions along the entire perimeter and start digging in immediately. Lazzell couldn't allow anyone to start digging in, because his initial sloppy positioning of troops made sure that every man in the unit was not in his permanent position.   

     There is no doubt that things would have gone quite differently, if Cavazos had been leading Lazzell's battalions, on the 17th of June. Ranch life had taught Dick to be resourceful. Lazzell was still struggling to spell that word, much less know what it meant. However, Dick had learned early, not only how to be resourceful, himself, but also how to spot and use the resourcefulness of others. No leader should try to be a one man band". Learning from observing his dad's resourcefulness, Dick had developed the ability to pick the right guy for the job. He had also come to realize, that no subordinate is ever going to be good at everything they do all the time and there are certain things that they are never going to be good at. Observing his dad, Lauro, as he exerted his leadership over other ranch hands, taught Dick a lot more about human nature, than I have time to discuss here. Most of it, became embedded in his subconscious, so deep, that I doubt even Dick, himself, understood how it got there. Dick could pick the right junior officer or the right N.C.O. without  belaboring his choice and at the same time usually make a good choice. That subordinate would than take over and do his part, getting the actual work done, without Dick having to act like a "little man", going around breathing down everyone's neck. Very soon, with this type of leadership coming from Dick, we could establish a battalion perimeter, complete with the "DePuy" fighting positions, in less than half the time of other units in the division. Delegating, and than trusting, but verifying, not only worked well for Reagan, but it also worked well for Dick in the jungles of Vietnam. Maybe it was Dick's idea to use mattocks and Marston matting, or maybe it wasn't. However, when a good idea like these presented themselves, he had the wherewithal to realize their potential for improving our performance. Mattocks cut the time it took to dig a hole at least in half. Marston matting, cut more time off the chore of building a DePuy bunker. That translated into less time that the enemy had to shell us, while we were in the open, which drastically decreased casualties. On the 17th of June, 1967 most of the men wounded and killed became casualties from mortar rounds. However, this is just one example of Dick's resourcefulness. Many battalions, including the 1/16th, established two man positions. We always had three men to a position. That gave each position an extra man which meant we had one third more muscle power to dig in faster. It also allowed us three men to pull guard, which translated into more rest time for each man. Men could be pulled from perimeter positions for other details and patrols, and we still had  two men manning each position at all times. Lastly, the third man could watch the rear opening of our fighting position for bad guys, during an attack, or go for more ammo. This was just another resourceful improvement, probably gleaned from Dick's combat command experiences in Korea.     

     Prior to the beginning of the attack, which began around 1230 hours, Murry's A company had been left to lounge around the north side of the perimeter, for almost two hours. The attitude was such, that Lazzell's men were behaving, as if they were on practice maneuvers in a totally secure area. There was no sense of urgency, whatsoever. Many of them were laying back on their ruck sacks, napping out, eating, or reading letters from home. Machine gunners failed to have their boxes of ammo dropped off near enough to them so they wouldn't have to retrieve them under fire. One of Murry's machine gunners had failed to set his gun up until the battle started. Under Cavazos, we would have already fully encircled the clearing and had a well protected perimeter established, with DePuy bunkers in place. Instead, not a single foxhole had been started. Instead, there was a jumbled-up mess to content with. To top the mess off, the entire 2/28th A Company was strung out in the open, saying to Triet, "Here I am. Drop your mortars on me first".

     Cavazos would have prepped the entire perimeter just before we grunts started arriving and we would have spread out evenly around the perimeter and started digging in, immediately. Also, when Dick prepped an LZ, he spared no expense. He used everything available in the Air Force's arsenal. Napalm and anti-personnel bombs were a favorite. This would have eliminated many of the snipers and spotters, who were hiding in trees surrounding the clearing. It would have also destroyed much of the communications wiring and disrupted the ox cart trails, making it harder to herd the "brown uniformed deplorables" down them. Yet, when we arrived after the battle was over, it was obvious to me that the perimeter had not been properly prepped. Its amazing to me, that Lazzell did not take this step seriously. It was just one more factor which indicated that Lazzell, should not have been in command of this operation. Why didn't senior command realize this fact? Nobody messes up as bad as Lazzell did on this, without displaying previous indications of poor decision-making. There are always tell-tale signs beforehand. Yet, senior command was some how blinded to his ongoing poor performance. In Lazzell's defense, his unit had already been over worked. He, himself, was a "short timer", who had seen much more than his share of combat. Those two factors, alone, should have been objective reasons enough for picking us, as part of this operation from the "get go", instead of the Rangers. By now it was quite obvious that Cavazos was very competent. The sad truth is this. Hay and the brigade commander, Colonel Sidney Marks simply dropped the ball, themselves. I am certain some will find me cruel for making these negative comments. However, the truth always seems cruel to those, who refuse to face it. 

     After more than fifty years, I have said all this to say the following. I feel loyalty to no one accept God and those young soldiers and junior officers who walked into that clearing that day. They deserved better than what they got. The cascading consequences of poor leadership at every level, from the President on down, once again undermined the outcome of the righteous goal that these young men were called upon to fulfill. My story points out a few flaws in the tactics. However, political as well as strategic thinking were the real culprits, which doomed us to losing the war. Sure, better tactics would have saved more American lives, but strategically speaking, it should have been the South Vietnam Army shedding their blood in these battles, instead of us. It was their country and their freedom, which was at stake. Our leaders could have easily provided the, training, equipment, rear guard protection and air support, while allowing the South's armed forces face the enemy head-on. In an insurgency war, it's never correct to try and become the "all in all" for the nation, which is being supported. That simply undermines that nation's national resolve to win. David Petraeus proved the validity of this statement in Iraq. His understanding of this premise allowed him to devise a strategy which reversed the outcome of the insurgency happening just after the second Gulf War.