Exert 8 A Bad Business Meeting

     There was a meeting late in the day, which gave Welch and Welch alone his greatest opportunity to turn the tide on the catastrophe awaiting the 2/28th the next morning. Why him alone? Because the events which occurred the next day would reveal that Terry's mind was nowhere to be found. Welch was the only one at the meeting with senior commanders who understood the danger facing the Black Lions. General Hay would most certainly have understood too, but he was called away on business in Saigon. I realize that I have been very critical of him. However, I do believe that it was unfortunate that he couldn't be at this meeting because Hay was a stickler for details and he would have definitely probed past Terry's malaise, forcing him and the others to talk about the details of the plans for the next day's operation. Why am I so sure of this? Well, for one, Hay had been flying overhead and had witnessed every successful maneuver Captain Caudill had made that day during the battle of Da Yeu. Hay had witnessed coordinated backup of fires along with the tactical maneuvering which Caudill had made. In other words, Hay had witnessed with his own eyes what it took to beat Triet. Knowing this, I find it hard to believe that Hay would not have questioned Terry, possibly exposing his lack of planning for the following day, and thus opening up an opportunity for a self-absorbed man like Welch to insert his own good tactical thinking into the conversation. If only Hay had been there and if only God had given me wings, I would probably do a lot more flying than I do? Instead, Welch let his fear of authority make him "clam-up" while Hay had supper in Saigon.

      As the meeting began, Clark Welch did talk profusely about the details of the day's fight. It was a stand-up meeting out in the open center of the NDP only twenty yards or so from the Helicopter which had brought Coleman and Newman here a little earlier in the afternoon. That visit was so they could chew on Terry's butt for not being aggressive enough during the day's operation. Neither Terry, Coleman or Newman had a clue about what they might be facing tomorrow. Clark Welch was the only guy there, who was knowledgeable enough to fully understand the gravity of tomorrow's upcoming operation and also what to do about it. However, he would never have initiated a conversation expressing his concerns without being asked. Few junior officers in the First Division would have spoken up under similar circumstances. If he had, it would have definitely rubbed Terry the wrong way. In the First Division during 1967, Dick Cavazos was the only field commander among those, whom I have researched, who would never have allowed his rank to lord over another man's ability to speak his mind on tactical issues. A man could freely express himself on tactics, and Dick judged the validity of what he was saying, not by his rank, but by every word coming out of his mouth. Furthermore, when Dick was talking to senior leadership, he had no problem speaking his mind, either. Many times, it was him, who hopped on a helicopter and flew to them before they had a chance to come to him and his proven track record went with him along with his genius for accessing the current situation. Welch had been under fire enough times to know that certain general maneuvers were critical and needed to be agreed upon beforehand, or else things could deteriorate into chaos too late for even a good plan to work. However, Army culture hindered Welch from speaking up and because he was a good soldier, who followed orders, he said nothing. Yet, as he remained silent, he also burned inside. Clark Welch probably went to his grave regretting that he had not said something during this meeting. Coleman and Newman both had just witnessed his bravery and his competence in the heat of battle and would have probably listened to any tactical suggestions which he was willing to throw out there, especially since Coleman had just pinned a silver star on Welch's chest for his performance in today's action. If he had only been brave enough to say something? However, it was not to be. Instead, this meeting sealed the fate of more than sixty young Americans, because one guy was absent in mind and spirit and another guy was afraid to speak out.

 THE MEETING on Oct. 16 1967: From right to left, 1st Lt. Clark Welch,
  Brigadier Gen. Coleman, Major Don Holleder, Lt. Col. Terry Allen,
 Col. George (Buck) Newman

     First Brigade Commander Colonel Buck Newman was at the meeting. However, he was new and had not observed Terry Allen long enough to have developed any idea one way or the other about his combat abilities. We swapped operational control between the three brigades so much that it would have been unusual for him or any other brigade commander to have made more than a cursory assessment of any of the battalion commanders temporarily under their control. Brigadier General Coleman was at the meeting too. He was the assistant Division commander and was the top guy in the division who would be overseeing the next day's operation, since General Hay was away at a mandatory meeting in Saigon. Coleman was also responsible for eight other battalions involved in various operations. While in Saigon, Hay was probably getting pressured by Westmoreland to be more aggressive. It was common knowledge that Westmoreland felt Hay moved to slow and was too careful with his men's lives. To top things off, making this a meeting which was just going through the motions, Terry, as well as Newman and Coleman were lulled into a false sense of invariability, due in part to Dick's recent string of victories as well as Welch and Kasik's good showing on this very day. I am sure that there was a strong feeling of supreme superiority over Triet amongst these three. The mood of the meeting would have screamed to each of them, if not to Clark, that it was high time to increase enemy "body counts". In the eyes of Westmoreland, today's paltry 17 kills by Kasik and Welch were definitely not cutting it. Although no strategy could be more wrong than a strategy of attrition, when warring against an ideology which has absolutely no respect for human life, whatsoever, still, the clueless Westmoreland defended that strategy until the day he died. His errant notion produced an "under current", which weighed on all senior commanders who wanted to keep their careers in tact, including the two senior commanders, standing along side Terry in the picture above. It's obvious from what transpired the next day, that no tactical plan was discussed, and no pertinent questions were asked by these two senior leaders. Coleman and Newman did listen dutifully as Terry dominated the meeting, rattling on about what a great day it was going to be and what his line of march was going to be and where he was going to drop air strikes on the retreating NVA. Never mind mentioning anything that would have set off a string of "What if " questions, which he had not thought about, even to himself. At this point Terry didn't want to think. He just wanted to get the meeting over with. Coleman and Newman were preoccupied too. As I said, they were feeling the pressure coming down from their boss, Westmoreland, to produce bigger "body counts" because Westmoreland, himself was under pressure to prove that his war of attrition was really working. For "heaven's sake", Terry was the son of a past First Division Commander and hero of World War II. There was no reason why he couldn't be just as aggressive as his "ole man" had been in North Africa. In their minds, Terry had the makings of a great commander in his genes but he had not lived up to that potential today. They thought he had quit too soon. They had no idea that they were trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Hopefully, for Coleman and Newman, tomorrow would be Terry's time to shine and make his father and the Division proud. No senior officer would ever have relished the thought of having to have been the one to fire the son of a legendary First Division Commander. Tragically, all these factors were coming together to subvert a meeting which otherwise could have been a last fail-safe preventing the coming tragedy.

     Terry was nothing like his father. Welch sensed the stubbornness and confusion in his commander and it was now making him angry. He cringed at Terry's over-all handling of the meeting. "Here he was", Welch thought, "talking about bombing a retreating enemy, when one must first come up with a plan to make that enemy want to run away in the first place". Today, Welch and Kasik had been fortunate enough, to have time to maneuver and call in artillery. However, "That may not be the case tomorrow". In a growing number of observations lately, Welch had noticed signs of his commander's inability to visualize what needing to be done. However, now they were getting ready for what could possibly be the "big one". This meeting, more than any other, needed to be about nailing down their tactics so everyone would be on the same page when the unit went back into that jungle in the morning. That wasn't happening. Terry was not only not nailing anything down, it seemed he had lost his hammer. Yet, Welch was too scared to speak up in front of Coleman and Newman.

      No one, including Welch, had any idea what was really going on in Terry's mind. One report says that he had been chastised earlier in the afternoon of the 16th by both Coleman and Newman for breaking off contact with the enemy and returning to the NDP too soon. That report also said that Coleman and Newman felt that Terry could have produced better results (a bigger body count) if he had been on the ground with B and D Companies, instead of flying around above them in an observation helicopter. I believe that higher command had been betting their money on the wrong horse all along. This horse was never going to win a big race but that was not entirely his fault. I also believe that on this last full day of his life, Terry would have liked nothing better than to have stopped this meeting, resigned his command, got on a plane, and flew home to a restored marriage, his daughters, and also a completely different job. Oh, If only Humpty Dumpty could have been put back together again. Furthermore, it's plausible to think that Terry would have walked away from this current path long before now, if not for his pride telling him to hold on to a way of life which was his father's path. It was not a path meant for him.

    There was another meeting after Coleman and Newman flew back to Chon Thanh. This one was held out of the afternoon rain, inside a hex tent with real folding chairs for the attendees to sit on. The captains who were company commanders got to sit on the front row. Welch was a company commander too, but since he was a Lieutenant he had to take a seat on the second row. It was a battalion briefing. There were about 10 people at this meeting, three company commanders, Terry's S3 and S2, attached air and artillery observers and other officers and NCOs in the headquarters company. Terry was the highest ranking officer at this meeting. By now, Terry was not in any mood to entertain even the slightest questioning concerning what should be done, if contact was made the next day. Although critical tactical questions were still up in the air and needing to be addressed, Terry wanted to hear none of it, as crazy as that might sound. Clark could sense Terry's negative attitude and he also knew he needed to speak up before leading his men back into that jungle like dumb sheep into the jaws of a lion. The "entire thing", of not knowing what to say, left a sinking feeling deep inside Welch's stomach, greater than anything he had ever experienced before. He felt helpless and abandoned by Terry. Clark Welch had no knowledge of the negative forces weighing on his commander, and even if he had known, it was not his place to care. Clark's concern was with his men, as it should have been. Here is the most gut wrenching part of everything which should have transpired in these two meetings, but didn't. The critical life saving tactical information, which both Terry and Clark needed to know had already been made available just six days earlier by Lt. Col. Dick Cavazos at the Battle of Da Yeu, yet that information was never passed on to the other eight battalion commanders, by the senior officers who witnessed the battle. It was a systemic communications flaw in senior command at the very highest levels. I would have to say that the buck set in motion by this problem fluttered all the way up through the chain of command, until that buck stopped as it slammed into the hardheaded skull of Westmoreland, himself. Dick had shown the entire Division how to do the very thing that Terry now so desperately needed to know how to do. Sure, Terry was definitely in over his head, but had this tactic been verbally disseminated, as a guide line, not as an S.O.P., to the nine field commanders, I dare say that Terry would not have hesitated to follow those guide lines. However, as unbelievable as it may sound today, no critiquing of past battles was ever pasted on. To make matters worse, the average field commander of that day would never have done what Dick did, because the tactic required an initial fast withdrawal maneuver, which field commanders would not execute, because they were afraid it would look like timidity, to his senior commander. The average field commander needed the backing of a wise senior commander and those types were sorely lacking in the First Infantry Division in 1967.    

     So, with all this said, as men started walking away from this second meeting toward their positions for the night, Clark blurted out a crazy "friendly fire remark" which hit Terry squarely between the eyes. It created more damage than a miss-laid 155 round could ever have caused. "Sir, I don't think we should go back in there tomorrow", Clark barked. Those were absolutely the most poorly chosen and destructive words Clark had ever spoken in his entire life and they knocked Terry's already damaged state of mind right over the edge. Upon hearing them, Terry immediately reversed the order of march for the following day. "You have had a hard day today, Al", as he called Welch. He then continued, " I am changing the order of march. A Company will lead tomorrow instead of your D Company". That was it. Welch was dismissed without being allowed to rephrase and say what he was really trying to say.

     Of course they were going to return tomorrow to that same area. That's what they were there to do and no one knew that better than Clark. What Clark almost certainly meant to say was, "Sir, I think we should stop and talk about an overall plan in case we are attacked". Terry, however, took Clark's words literally and in Terry's beaten down condition, they were translated into words of complete abandonment, of him, by his best soldier. Actually, they were not that. Instead, they were simply cries for help. It was Clark's way of begging Terry to step up to the challenge and lead. He had no idea that it was too late for Terry to do that. Terry's distorted thinking heard what he heard and those misspoken words were the final straw. All along Terry had been trying to fill his father's shoes. He had no aptitude for this business. He had graduated second to last in his class at West Point. He should have taken that ranking as a huge warning sign that he was in the wrong line of work but he didn't. A good leader always possesses the ability to read their people no matter what words come forth from their mouths, especially if they are leading those men into combat. If he could not read his own men, whom he was with day in and day out, how could he ever have hoped to gain an understanding of a shadowy and ruthless foe like Vo Minh Triet? As this last business meeting of Terry's life ended, it was his pride which stripped him of that last bit of ability to think logically. He had no aptitude for killing. You see, not everyone is cut from the same cloth. There should be no shame associated with those who lack this morbid ability to take life, although it is a path which God has paved for some of the righteous among us to follow, and that path will remain open until Christ returns, to put an end to all war. However, Terry was never one of those called to this. It was his covering of pride protected by a foreboding of shame, which laid this final death trap for him. There are an infinite number of routes in life and many pursuits but only one path and one pursuit for each of us, to find real fulfillment. My previous commander, Lt. Col. Denton, against all odds, found this enlightened path later in his life, after butting his head against a wall, as a combat commander, which he was clearly not cut out to be. However, he changed course later in his life and went on to touch many other lives and his community in a life giving way that only he could have done. However, because Terry had not developed a personal walk with God, nor did he have a strong Christian legacy to enlighten his way, he became one more tragic victim of the darkness. He became trapped in the shadow of his father's life, never finding that bright and sunlit path which his creator had designed just for him.

     Terry had given absolutely no thought whatsoever to how he was going to lead his men if Triet came at him tomorrow and he had now dismissed the only man who could have helped him work through a plan to do that.