Memoirs of a Rifle Platoon Leader
Clarence D. "Hugh" Long
I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in June 1965 with an ROTC commission and was almost immediately sent to Fort Benning to IOBC (Infantry Officer's Basic Course).This was not particularly demanding. There was a Tactics Tiger award which most classes received, but ours did not. I graduated from the course 9 weeks later. I probably received more training from ROTC Summer camp than I did from IOBC.
After IOBC I was sent to the Airborne course which was not really demanding either. All you had to do was drop and do 20 pushups, whenever the Sergeant told you to, which was about 20 times a day, and run about 2-3 miles in formation in the morning, not very fast. My first jump was scary as hell but not after that. We missed the 250 foot tower drop because the Ist Cav was being trained for VN, and they had an airborne brigade. Did not seem to make any difference.
After completing my 5 jumps I was assigned to the Training School brigade as a PIO officer. A more inglorious assignment can scarcely be imagined, and I will not bore you with it.
However, I did meet MG Forsythe at a dance and told him that I was on orders to Vietnam, and would appreciate the opportunity to go to Ranger School. He sent me VOCG (Voice Order Commanding General) in short order. I was in Ranger 8-66 and graduated in May 1966. Ranger school was NOT a party. I had failed to buy enough good socks, and paid for it by limping on both feet for at least 4 weeks. The ingrown blisters were beyond belief. This severely discommoded me, and I was lucky to be able to graduate.
In July 1966 I arrived in Vietnam and after a couple of days at Camp Alpha, I got on an airplane for Phan Rang and "P" training. I was then sent to the 2/502 along with Captain Silvasy (we were on the same orders to RVN), and was given 3rd platoon and was more or less immediately sent on my first operation. My first operation was to investigate an "Arc Light" and what I most remember was finding a VC training camp with a homemade model airplane on wires so that VC could practice tracking it.
My platoon Sergeant was Tom Bennett and my first squad leader was Sergeant Young. Both were graduates of Ranger School. Good NCO's, especially Sergeant Young. Later P/Sgt Bennett was replace by P/Sgt Readus, also a good NCO. Very courageous.
I will not spend a great deal of time on individual operations. Most of the fighting was desultory, with snipers firing at us without hitting anything, and not being hit in return. Usually the sniper would be gone by the time his third cartridge case hit the ground. We would light up the area with one M-16 magazine apiece, and cease fire.
I will discuss the weapons we had briefly. The M-16s we had were first generation M-16's and were all worn out. It was difficult to get through two magazines without a jam. The M-60's were not much better, and also tended to jam frequently. When I noticed that we only had one M-79 in the platoon, I had several issued. I eventually started carrying one myself. The M-79 was a superb weapon. I loved it. Only one shot at a time BUT it did NOT JAM. Today's Army uses an over-combination and several of the prototype versions of this weapon, (then called the XM 147) were issued in to the 2/502 in the Spring of 1967. The weapon was later called the M-203. LTC Dietrich did have all the M-60 bolts in the battalion replaced.
I considered both LTC Dietrich and Captain Silvasy to be excellent leaders.
We could not get enough lensatic compasses. Nor combat boots. Nor Alice packs. Nor jungle fatigues. This was a failure of the logistics system on at least the Brigade level.
A word about the men I served with. I have a picture of the platoon taken in April 1967 on one of our few visits to Phan Rang. They were all good men, and obeyed every order I ever gave them, including the less than brilliant ones.
One incident, I think, will suffice. We had stopped for lunch in some flat area in, I think, Phan Thiet province. I had sent a machine gun team ahead 50 yards or so to keep watch while we ate. Suddenly some shots rang out from the outlying machine gun.
Without a word from me, every man in the platoon got up and ran toward the MG. I had to run to catch up. It turned out to be an accidental discharge, but I still remember this spontaneous outbreak of group courage. These men were better than they ever got credit for being, and better than their country deserved.
I was in only two or three battles in RVN. By a "battle" I mean a platoon or more of us against a squad or more of VC or NVA. In the last battle, (I was in charge of recon by then)we were attacked by an NVA company at 2 am along the Song Ve river (that is a redundancy, since "Song" means river in Vietnamese.) in Phan Thiet province on July 11,1967. They made the mistake of throwing a shower of those little Chicom grenades before they opened fire with their rifles. That just woke us up.
We were able hold them off with our grenades until the artillery came in. After about four hours we were rescued by Charlie company, under Captain Silvasy. We suffered 3 dead and 18 wounded. It could have been a lot worse.
Things I would do differently: Not be so damn self confident. Require the carry of more canteens. Really police the issuance of malaria pills. Recommend more of my subordinates for decorations. I am glad I went to Ranger school, if only because I learned to read maps.
Upon my return from RVN I suffered the same emotional flatness and depression that many veterans experience. I did manage to graduate from law school and pass the bar and get married. I returned to the Army as a Jag officer in 1975. I retired from that job in 1992 and from the Air Force General Counsel's Office in 2006. The VA is giving me a pension for kidney failure. I have no financial problems. Hopkins gave me a new kidney.
The marriage lasted 26 years. I am now re-married and live in Northern Va. My last son graduates college in May. He has a job, as do my others. They are all smarter than I am.
One thing I am proud of is that I helped found the Strike Force Association, along with Tom Russell and Jim Gould, in 1984. I also was instrumental in building the Strike Force monument at Fort Campbell. That still looks nice. I send flowers there every year on Memorial day and Veterans day. I gather others do as well. I also send money to retouch it every so often.