The Sergeant is new.
We all have to choose our own path in life. Some go for greatness and pursue their dreams. Sadly, others don’t choose at all; and may not even know where they are headed. If you don’t choose your path, life will choose it for you.
So goes it with Sammy. A 19-year old black kid from the streets of Chicago. He had no ambition, no drive. The year was 1968 and he lived on the south side of Chicago; a place of poverty, crime and uncertainty. He lived with his mother who
worked two jobs to try and keep a roof over their heads.
His father had run off when he was a baby and never came back. This was Sammy’s life. Hanging out on street corners with his so-called friends; not knowing what tomorrow would bring.
Sammy’s life seemed to be going nowhere until one day fate stepped in. Fate always has a way of changing things and that day it changed Sammy’s life. He had been arguing with his mother that morning about him getting a job. So to cool
down he decided to take a walk.
He ended up in a business district a good way from home. It was a place that he was unfamiliar with. He stopped on a corner and looked around. Across the street was an army recruiting office. He felt a twinge of excitement and his mind started racing with possibilities.
He had thought about joining the army a while back. He and his buddies had even talked about it. Like everything else, nothing ever came of it. But standing there staring at the recruiting office it seemed more to him than a whim. It was his way out, maybe even a chance to do something. He knew he couldn’t spend the rest of his life on that street corner but there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities.
His mother wouldn’t be happy with the Vietnam War going on, but he was old enough to make his own choices and it would be easier on her having one less mouth to feed. Besides, maybe with the pay he got he could help her out and she
wouldn’t have to work two jobs. It seemed in his mind that he couldn’t lose. He might even get a medal and make her proud. She hasn’t had anything to be proud
of since he was born.
He walked across the street and into the office. What does he have to lose? A big guy in a uniform stood up and shook his hand. He told Sammy to have a seat.
Sammy gladly sat down. His knees were about to give out anyway because he was so nervous.
The man asked Sammy, “What have you got on your mind?”
Sammy replied, “I was thinking about joining the army.”
Being a recruiting sergeant, he began telling Sammy all about the army and all that it had to offer. The more Sammy heard, the more he wanted to do this. Maybe this was the way out!
“Now that you know what the Army has to offer, what do you want to do?”
Sammy didn’t hesitate, “Sign me up!”
With a big a grin on his face, the sergeant said, “You did the right thing. You will be sent to an induction center where you will be given uniforms, a lot of paperwork and be sworn in. From there you will go to basic training at one of our training
camps. Once you graduate, you will be given an MOS (Mode of Service). Based on the results of the tests you take at the induction center and according to which MOS you receive, you will be sent to the appropriate advanced training. How does
that sound to you?”
“Sounds great! How soon can I get going?”
“Well, I have to do the paperwork and get it approved. If we get the paperwork completed now, I should be able to get you to the induction center in five days providing there are no problems. Does that sound reasonable for you?”
“Let’s do it!” Sammy said.
After the paperwork was completed Sammy went home. He waited anxiously for his mom to get home. He wondered how she would take the news, but this was his life and he had to live it. It would not be easy to tell her not knowing how she
would react. She finally got home and he sat her down and told her everything and showed her all the paperwork. She sat there listening to him not saying a word.
Finally, she spoke, “Sammy I love you and I know you are not going anywhere here. I know you’re not happy and if this is what you want, then I am all for it. My brother was just like you until he went into the army. He made it a career. He has a
good wife and a couple of kids. He made something of himself. Now he is fixing to retire and I know that if you try hard enough, you can too! No matter what, I will always love you.”
Sammy got up the next morning and headed down to the corner to tell the guys, but something was different. He felt happier, surer of himself and even anxious. For the first time in his life he actually saw a future. His friends were happy for him, but they would miss him. A couple of them even said they might go down and join.
This made Sammy feel pretty good about his decision. The more he thought about it the more excited he got. This could be a whole new start for him. A new
He had to wait five days on that recruiting sergeant and his patience was running thin! Time seemed to go by at a crawl! Only two days had passed. Even standing on this corner with his boys like he had done so many times before seemed so
different. He wanted to get on with his life and standing on this corner wasn’t accomplishing that. His whole perspective of life had changed. He now had a purpose, a mission so to speak and he wanted to get on with it. He wanted to get away from this area of Chicago and see the world and he wanted to do it now!
After only three days the sergeant called him and asked him to come down to the recruiting office. Sammy couldn’t wait to get there. He ran almost all the way.
When he got there and he went in, the sergeant had a big smile on his face, “Take a seat, Sammy. I’ve got some good news for you. All the paperwork is back and we
are ready to get you going.”
Sammy was grinning from ear to ear.
The sergeant went over everything; every form and document. He explained to Sammy how he would be leaving the following morning for the induction center and what to expect. The sergeant gave him a list of things he could bring with him
and what not bring and regulations concerning his behavior. He was to be at the recruiting center him at 0700. He, along with other recruits would be taken to the center. “Here is the packet you are to give to the sergeant on the bus in the morning.” He stood up, asked if Sammy had any questions, shook his hand and said “Good luck” and that was that.
Tomorrow Sammy would start a new adventure, a new life, a new beginning!
He headed home so he could tell his mom the news. He was so excited he floated all the way home, or so it felt like it. He thought about all those years he had hung
out on that street corner with his boys known as the ‘corner rats.’ He was glad to be going in the army but at the same time he was a little sad. Even though they were
going nowhere here on the streets of Chicago, they had some good times together.
To a certain point, he was going to miss that. But onward and upward! Now he had a new life and he was going to embrace it completely.
He spent the rest of the day getting his stuff together; carefully following the list the sergeant gave him. He went down to the corner and said goodbye to the corner
He had dinner with his mom and they talked about what she would do now that he would be gone and she would be alone. Sammy hadn’t given much thought to it, but things were about to change for her too. She said, “I could quit one of my jobs
and move to a smaller place.” Sammy thought that was a great idea.
The next morning, he was at the recruiting office early. There was an army bus sitting in front with a bunch of guys standing around outside. Sammy noticed that most of them were black, he actually knew a few of them. They lived in the same area as he did. Actually, they were in the same shape as him; poor and ineffective.
They probably joined for the same reason he did.
A tall heavy-set sergeant came out of the office and told them to line up in a single straight line. “As you get on the bus give me your name, hand me your packet, find a seat and keep your mouths shut.” After everyone was on the bus the sergeant got on and yelled “Listen up! In about two hours we will be at the induction center.
You will remain seated and keep quiet until you are told otherwise. When you depart the bus you will form a single line with all your gear. A couple of corporals will inspect your gear to make sure there is no contraband. You will follow all
orders given to you. When this is finished Captain Nichols will give you the orientation procedures. And you will keep your mouths shut and pay attention!
When they arrived at the induction center, their gear was searched. Then the captain led them into the chow hall for lunch. The food was pretty good; better than what he had at home. They spent three days at the induction center, taking
test, filling out paperwork, getting haircuts and uniforms. They were then loaded on a plane and flown to Fort Polk Louisiana for basic training.
They would be there for eight weeks. It was hard and the drill instructors were tough but Sammy was getting in shape not only physically but mentally as well.
His thoughts were clearer and more precise. He knew he had a lot more to learn but he was ready for anything they threw at him. Most of all, his self-confidence in himself was growing. He was no longer one of the kids hanging out on a corner of
Chicago with a bunch of corner rats, but a man with a future; an opportunity to achieve something and to carry his own weight. It felt good!
Several of the men including Sammy were given 11B MOS and were taken to North Fort Polk for infantry training and jungle survival training. It was pretty obvious they were going to Vietnam! North Fort Polk looked like Vietnam. That’s ok because Sammy felt like he was ready. He had to prove to his mom and himself that he could be somebody. This was his chance and he was actually looking
forward to it!
After graduating from basic, Sammy and the rest of the guys were loaded on a plane headed for Saigon Vietnam. He was anxious and a little apprehensive. A thousand questions went through his mind. Would he be a coward? Would he let his fellow soldiers down? He decided to put these questions out of his mind. What will be, will be!
When their plane touched down in Saigon, looking out the window it wasn’t anything like Sammy imagined. Troops were everywhere, South Viennese people were moving freight and helicopters everywhere. No, this was definitely not what
A sergeant boarded the plane and said, “Welcome to Vietnam, fellows. When you get off the plane fall into platoon formation. You will be taken over to the reception station. There will be four platoons of new arrivals already there. Each platoon will
be assigned a sergeant. That sergeant will take you through orientation and get the orders for each of your units. He will also try to answer any questions you may have. You will be here up to three days so listen to your sergeant and do what he says and this should go relatively smooth.”
On the second day, Sammy and twenty-four others received their orders for Camp Enari, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, Pleiku.
They would chopper out the next morning. Sammy spent the rest of the day researching all he could about Charlie Company. They did a lot of search and destroy missions which he looked forward to. He had to prove himself not only to his comrades but to himself and this was a way of doing that.
The next morning Sammy and twenty-four others were on choppers heading for Camp Enari. During the chopper flight, they talked about what they expected when they got there. There was a buck sergeant just returning from an R&R (Rest and Recuperation) sitting next to the door gunner smiling. One guy asked him where they were going.
The sergeant just said, “You will see” and closed his eyes to relax.
All of them were excited and leery at the same time. Back at the reception station they had heard stories about how the VC’s fought. It wasn’t very comforting to say
the least. They wondered how long it would be before they were in a firefight.
Some of them openly expressed how frightening it was just thinking about it!
They landed at Camp Enari and fell into platoon formation, a sergeant came over and started yelling, “Get in single file and set your intervals. When you bunch up, Charlie has the perfect target for the mortars. You just got here and we don’t want
to lose you just yet.” That made them feel really good! He led them over to Charlie Company and put them in a building he called the team house.
A rather large first sergeant came in and told them to sit down. “Welcome to Camp Enari. We are glad to see you. You are replacements for the KIA (Killed in Action) and wounded we have had over the last month. We honor them for the sacrifice
they made. They were heroes and will not be forgotten!”
He continued “Our firebase is one square mile and ten miles from North Vietnam so we see action frequently. With time you will catch on. The duty roster is posted every morning on the bulletin board. We have twenty-four hours a day guard duty
and various other chores. I promise you, when you are on duty you will be busy.
We do search and destroy missions twice a day at varying times and we are constantly building our defenses.
“The sergeant will get you your billets and each of you will be assigned a platoon. Get to know your buddies in your platoon, they are your lifeline. It’s all about teamwork. When the shooting starts, they are the only ones you can trust. Good luck keep your head down, do your job and go home safe.”
Sammy and four others were assigned to 2nd platoon which brought the count up to forty. The platoon leader was 2nd Lieutenant Simpson. He had been in the country for two months fresh out of OCS. The platoon sergeant was Master Sergeant Jackson, a man of integrity and honor. This was his third tour and he knew what he was doing. If you wanted to stay alive you had better listen to him.
Sergeant Jackson called the platoon together, reminding them to keep their intervals. He introduced the new guys and assigned them to squads. Sammy was assigned to 3rd squad and his squad leader was a buck sergeant out of Pittsburg
named Sergeant Davis. He was a nice guy and pretty sharp. This was his second tour.
Sergeant Davis took Sammy to his bunk area so he could stow his gear. While walking there he explained a few things to Sammy. “I know this is all new to you; the first tour is always the hardest. Don’t worry about it, you will get used to it. Just do what you are told and listen to the others in your squad. Before long you will be an old hand. If you have any questions, ask! It is better to ask than to do something stupid; that’s how people die. When you finished AIT you were promoted to PFC
(Private First Class). If you survive a few months and don’t get anyone killed, you will probably be promoted to specialist four.”
Once his gear was stowed, the sergeant took Sammy out and put him on a detail with another member of his squad; filling sandbags. He told Sammy they were expecting a mortar attack tonight and they needed as many sandbags as they can get. That made Sammy feel real good, his first day and a mortar attack! The guy that he was filling sandbags with was named Dale and had been in Camp Enari about a month. He was from Georgia and was easy to get along with.
Dale said, “Don’t worry about the mortar attacks. They shell us at least three times a week. Just keep your butt down and hang on. It usually doesn’t last long.”
Sammy asked Dale about the search and destroy missions. Dale replied “It’s not that hard. The lieutenant and sergeant direct everything! Just do what they tell you, keep your eyes open and you should be ok. What we do is look for Charlie and
when we find him we set up an ambush. Sometimes Charlie finds us first and when that happens it gets pretty hairy. Just do what you’re told, watch the guy next to you and kill as many as you can. It’s that simple.”
“Is it really that simple?” Sammy asked.
“Sometimes,” Dale said with a smile. “Don’t worry about it. Sergeant Davis usually leaves new boots in camp the first week, letting them get used to everything. Maybe
you will get lucky and remain in camp this week.”
Sammy worked the rest of the day filling sandbags. Finally, Sergeant Davis told them to go get some chow and some sleep. Sergeant Davis had assigned Dale as Sammy’s buddy, which meant that they would be together in everything. They
were assigned guard duty at 2400 that night. Sammy was glad he would be with him tonight. Dale was the type that would help him stay alive. Sammy would do his best to watch Dale’s back.
All along the perimeter fence were fox holes every twenty-five yards and were surrounded by sandbags. Each fox hole had two men twenty-four hours a day pulling guard duty. Towers were positioned along the fence line with 50 caliber
machine guns in each one. They also had two men in them twenty-four hours a day.
The Viet Cong were known by many names; VC, Charlie, Fish Heads, Gooks and a few more that weren’t near as pleasant. Most of the time they were just called Charlie. Sammy didn’t know why but he liked that name.
At midnight Sammy and Dale positioned themselves in one of the foxholes to watch the perimeter. Using cover of night, Charlie liked to probe the defenses.
They would send a two-man teams (zappers) to try and cut the wire so they could get inside. They would cut a little at a time so as not to be noticed, then sneak off and return the next night to cut some more. Usually, when this was happening, they launch a mortar attack for diversion. You had to stay alert when on guard duty or it could cost lives may be your own.
Dale and Sammy reported to guard duty as ordered. The night was pretty quiet except for a 50 cal firing off a few rounds. It made Sammy jump. Dale laughed,
“Don’t get jumpy. Just someone stretching their legs so to speak.” Sammy looked at him and smiled kind of embarrassed. Dale continued “Next week when you go out into the jungle try to stay behind me. I don’t have a lot of experience, but I do
have some. And watch where you step; these little devils love to plant booby traps.
We don’t want you going home without something you might need.” He smiled.
Sammy agreed with that.
At about 0200 all hell broke loose; mortar fire! Sammy thought ‘I hope I don’t look as scared as I am.’ Dale said “Keep your head down and watch for zappers. If you see any, open fire.” Mortars were dropping everywhere but they didn’t see
anyone in the wire. After about 15 minutes it stopped. Total silence!
“What’s going on?” Sammy asked Dale.
“Harassment!” Dale replied. “They drop mortars for ten to fifteen minutes to keep us from getting any sleep and to let us know they are watching us.” Sammy had a lot to learn.
Everything went ok for the rest of the week. Lots of work digging trenches, filling sandbags and doing guard duty. Sammy saw patrols going out every day and he knew that soon he would be going out too. He just hoped he was ready. Dale kept trying to give him crash courses and he listened to everything Dale said. Dale and Sammy were becoming real friends. He hoped they would get through this.
The next day Sammy was going out on a search and destroy mission with his squad. This made him feel like he was part of the team. Was he frightened? Yes, and rightfully so! Dale came up to him and told him to stay right behind him when they got in the jungle. He began telling Sammy little things to watch out for.
Sammy was so nervous he didn’t think he could remember them. He figured all he had to do was watch Dale and do what he did. Sammy had no idea what he was
Sergeant Davis called the squad together and told them they were going out and to make sure they had everything together.
“We know where Charlie is and we are going to set up an ambush. Watch everything around you and where you step. We
are going to take this slow and do it right. Intelligence believes there is a battalion of VC’s about three clicks from here. Our battalion will set up ambush points in different spots. There will be a lot of our guys in the area so watch where you are
Sammy and the rest of the squad and battalion loaded onto the choppers. They were taken out to a landing zone already secured by teams of army rangers. When they got to the landing zone it was dark. This was Sammy’s first time in the jungle and he had to be honest; he was scared to death. He had grown up with sidewalks and tall buildings. He had gone to the city park a few times where there was trees and brush but nothing like this. This was totally different.
Dale came over to him and told him to get down. “Watch Sergeant Davis and do exactly what he tells you to do. When we move out, stay right behind me keeping your interval. Watch where you step, remember the booby traps and stay alert.
Keep quiet and keep a sharp lookout. If the firing starts hold your fire until you know exactly what you are firing at. We don’t want any of our guys hurt.”
Sergeant Davis came over and said “Let’s go! Keep your intervals and keep quiet.”
As they moved toward the path through the jungle, Sammy was getting nervous and scared. Dale stopped for a second to let Sammy catch up. “Calm down and take it easy. You can do this; just keep alert.” He went ahead to get his interval.
They moved through the jungle like a big cat stalking his prey; slow and easy.
Sammy started to relax a little. If he kept his mind on what he was doing he would be alright. But he was still scared.
After about an hour they reached their ambush point. Intelligence said that Charlie was using this part of the path as a transfer point for supplies and troops. It was like a crossroad with different paths leading in different directions. A perfect place for an ambush. Sergeant Davis set the squad in different places. The rest of the company was well camouflaged. All they could do now was wait.
Sammy heard movement about 100 yards from him and Dale. Looked like they might be moving on a connecting trail headed south. Sammy remembered what Dale had said about holding his fire until he was sure. He was getting nervous.
Dale whispered “Settle down, they will get here soon enough. Just remember, know who are shooting at before you fire.” Sammy was grateful that Dale was
All of a sudden, he could see VC troops moving along the trail. He could hear them talking but couldn’t understand what they were saying. It was a lot of them!
Somewhere somebody fired a shot and then all hell broke loose. Everyone was shooting, people were screaming. You could see the rounds hitting close to you.
Sammy was shooting as fast as he could. He was so scared that he didn’t know if he was hitting anyone.
Within minutes, it looked like the VC’s were pulling out; they were running into the jungle. Sergeant Davis yelled “Let’s go” and we went in pursuit. The whole company was chasing them through the jungle firing at anyone they found. Dale was just ahead of Sammy yelling for him to keep up. Then all of a sudden, they were hit with mortars. Everyone was trying to find cover but couldn’t because the jungle was so lit up with mortar fire. Guys were screaming and being blown to bits.
Sammy got behind a tree trying to hang on. There were guys running to the rear through the jungle but the mortars was killing them.
The Captain stood up and yelled, “Stay where you are! They are tracking the mortar rounds! Stay down!”
There were four guys to the left of Sammy and Dale about twenty yards. A mortar exploded close to them and all four went down. A couple started screaming.
Sammy stood and started yelling “Medic.” But there was no medic around. They were further down the line trying to help other guys that were hurt.
Dale yelled at Sammy “Get down.” But Sammy had other things on his mind. The mortars kept
dropping! It seemed like hours but was actually just minutes. They were exploding everywhere!
Sammy wasn’t thinking about the mortars, he was thinking about those four guys aying there dying and no one was helping them. Sammy was not a brave man and he was scared to death. But he couldn’t let those guys lay there and die. He had to do something! He took off running toward them. Dale yelled “Where you going?
Get down you fool.” But Sammy couldn’t hear him, he just kept running. Dale realized what he was doing and thought about going too but he couldn’t leave his position in case Charlie decided to attack. Dale started cursing saying “The damn
fool, the brave damn fool is going to get himself killed.”
Sammy got to the four guys. They were hurt pretty bad and bleeding! He had to stop it somehow. He took his shirt off and tried to wrap the wounds best he could.
The mortars were still dropping all around them but Sammy was only worried about getting the guys out of harm’s way. He did the only thing he could think of. If he could get them back out of the range of the mortars then maybe he could find a
medic. He grabbed a guy and lifted him onto his shoulder and took off as fast as he could. When he thought they were out of range he put him down and took off after
He got two more back to safety. They were still breathing so he started back after the fourth. Halfway back, a mortar exploded close to him and he went down. He could feel the pain and the fear. He looked down and his right leg was gone. He knew he was going to die! He never thought about God before but now he started praying. He was getting weaker and weaker, then everything went black and he
Continue reading… Part 2