Sergeant of the Guard

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

When I reported for duty at Advisory Team 94, Detachment B-34, 5th Special Forces, at Song Be (Phouc Binh), Phouc Long Province, Republic of South Vietnam, during August 1965, the first person I met was Sergeant Major George Manuel. This was to be my first experience working directly with the U.S. Army. As we were driving to the compound the Sergeant Major told me that the man I was replacing had gone out on the same aircraft that I had come in on, but he would try to make it as easy for me as was possible under the circumstances. I was impressed, this was a giant of a man, a voice like a rumbling barrel, with the easy lope of a well trained athlete – he was also so homely that he was almost cute. For some reason, I took an immediate liking to this man. He inspired confidence right from the first moment. With that Green Beret sitting on his head at a jaunty angle with the Special Forces Badge just over his left eye, the Master Parachutist Wings and Master Combat Infantryman Badge on his chest, there was absolutely no doubt who the toughest man in this valley was.On the way to the camp, the Sergeant Major informed me that we had troops in heavy contact with the VC at this very moment and there was no time to give me a guided tour, but we would get caught up on all that later. After arriving in the compound he took me around a building and behind a sandbagged and concrete wall. He pointed to a dark stairway going down into the ground and says, lead the way. Odd sort of steps, they all sloped forward and at the bottom there was a concave block with a hole in the center. (Later on I learn that this is quite a clever little design. If the enemy were able to toss a grenade into the stairway, the sloping steps would keep it rolling down the stairs. When the grenade got to the bottom, the concave pad would roll it into the hole in the concave landing. Buried beneath the pad was a 40 gallon barrel of water that would absorb the shrapnel and shock wave of the exploding grenade – an automatic grenade disposal system). A turn to the right takes me into a rather dim earth walled room and there is another door straight ahead. Assuming that there must be more to this hole in the ground than what was evident so far, I opened the door and entered the next room. This room is well lighted with some wood on the walls but you can still smell and feel the damp earth. On my left is a bank of radio equipment with a black soldier wearing headphones and sending Morse code with a code key strapped to his leg. He was bare-chested so I had no idea what rank he was. Being a trained code operator I could tell by his rhythm that this guy was good. Without missing a beat he raises his hand and motions me to take the chair next to him, but facing in the opposite direction. On the right side there is another bank of radios, but these are Air Force radios and look a lot more familiar to me. The Sergeant Major says, Sgt Trimiar will explain things to you and I’ve got to get back to my job. He departs with a wave.
I’m sitting there in front of the radios and I hear, “4-Harvest Night, 4-Harvest Night, this is Viper-3 over.” Hmm, there doesn’t seem to be an answer, then again, “4-Harvest Night, 4-Harvest Night, this is Viper-3 over.”
Sgt Trimiar taps me on the knee and says, “Answer him, that’s you.”
There’s no time to discuss this. I’ve never heard of the call sign 4-Harvest Night, but I know that Viper-3 is one of my Forward Air Controllers. I reply, “Viper-3 this 4-Harvest Night, go ahead.”
Well, let me tell you, this Viper-3 guy is one angry individual. He tells me to stay on my radio, that he has troops-in-contact with the enemy, and he needs air support right now. I reply, “Viper-3 this is Tangerine-31 copy. Stand by.” I get busy calling the Direct Air Support Center at Bien Hoa, about 65 miles to the southwest of us on another radio.
While I’m doing this I hear Viper-3 say, “Glad your on-board Tangerine-31, now get me that air right now.”
“Tangerine this is Tangerine-31 with a request for an immediate air strike – troops-in-contact, over.” (Tangerine is the call sign of the Direct Air Support Center at Bien Hoa and Tangerine-31 is my call sign.)
“Tangerine-31, this is Tangerine understand immediate air, troops-in-contact.”
“This is 31, that’s affirmative and we need them right now, go ahead.”
“Tangerine-31, we’ve diverted a flight of F- 100s carrying napalm, 500 pound bombs and 20 mike mike (20 millimeter cannon).”
“Roger that, tell them to go to 271.0 UHF for rendezvous with Viper-3.
“Tangerine, Roger.”
I switched back to the FM radio. “Viper-3, 31.”
“31 Go.”
“You have a flight of F-100s carrying napalm, 500 pounders and 20 mike mike, coming up on 271.0, Over.”
“Ah, Roger that 31, tell Tangerine that we’ll probably need a couple of more flights and some helicopter gunships if possible.”
“Roger that, Viper-3.”
“And Tangerine-31 will you tell Viper-6 to prepare to get airborne, I’m running low on fuel.”
“Roger, sir.”
“Also tell him to get the crew chief to prepare the landing lights as we’re going to be flying tonight.”
“Roger. (All of the above took place in about the first five minutes that I was in the hole and it didn’t finish until roughly six hours later.) Later on, I was told that 4-Harvest Night was the call sign for the US Army Special Forces B-Team at Song Be – the Army operator sitting beside me. I could see that there could be a problem with this arrangement and worked out a solution that seemed to work for us.
Anytime that one of my FACs was in the air, or I happened to be in the commo bunker, I was both 4-Harvest Night and Tangerine-31. The 4- Harvest Night call sign was used when talking to other Special Forces Teams and with most Army aircraft. The Tangerine-31 call sign was used when talking with my FACs or other USAF aircraft and people on the ground. At first this was a little confusing, in effect, the handset in my right hand was Tangerine-31 while the one in my left hand was 4-Harvest Night. If this wasn’t confusing enough, we had several other radios that were used for other purposes, again with a mix of call signs. Quite often fighter-bomber aircraft would call on the UHF Air/Ground/Air radio asking for Viper Control or Song Be Control. In these instances, I would reply using those call signs (even though they didn’t exist). At other times I would receive calls from transport type aircraft on VHF Air/Ground/Air asking for Song Be airfield control, again I would reply informing them that there was no airfield control at Song Be, I was about the closest thing to that you could get. Then there was the High Frequency point-to- point radio with which we communicated with our Direct Air Support Center at Bien Hoa or the Tactical Air Control Center in Saigon. At first, it was a little overpowering, (Did I mention the word confusing?) but I was able to quickly adjust to this rather unconventional operation. There were remarkably few problems other than the occasional Army pilot, when hearing the same voice using several different call signs suspected that I might be a VC intercept operator trying to lead them down the garden path. This was usually cleared up by an exchange of classified authenticators, which proved that I was legitimate.
Now; back to my first day on the job. As soon as Viper-3 landed he came directly to the radio room to meet me and give me a brief explanation of what was going on. He told me to keep the fighters coming until the troops could withdraw back into artillery range and hopefully we’d have helicopter gunship support by then. Eventually the troops got back to safety with minimum casualties, I made my air strike reports to the DASC and that was the end of my first day. By this time I was starving and went searching for something to eat. I went into what I suspected must be the mess hall and find that there’s a bit of a celebration going on, apparently the ground operation has been very successful. There was a little bar in the corner of the mess hall and the Sergeant Major motions for me to come on over. He tells me that he’s saved something for me to eat and hands me a beer. I’m still a little dazed by all that’s gone on in such a short time and hope all my days aren’t going to be like this one. The Sergeant Major introduces me to everyone there and they all seem friendly enough. Lieutenant Colonel Roy, a shorter and stockier version of the Sergeant Major comes in and I’m then introduced to him. He’s the B-Team Commanding Officer and senior U.S. military adviser in the province. He seems to be a nice guy as well, and he goes on to say that the Sergeant Major actually runs the camp and if I have any problems – take them to him. I can tell the Sergeant Major likes this and he tells me we’ll have our little talk tomorrow morning after we’ve all had some rest.
I was really bushed and needed to clean up and get some sleep so I excused myself to go grab a quick shower before bed (as soon as I found out where I was supposed to sleep). The Sergeant Major says we’re lucky and have two man rooms right now. I’ll be sharing a room with Sergeant First Class Ortega, who was not in camp right now, but he’s an adviser with the ARVN Infantry Battalion. He tells me I probably won’t see much of Sergeant Ortega as he tries to spend most of his time with his unit. Then he tells me that we have a severe water shortage at Song Be and can only shower every other day. Then asks if I had a shower before I left Bien Hoa this morning, I tell him I did so he says no shower for you until tomorrow night. Then he tells me that all of the water is contaminated and not to drink any of it, not even when brushing your teeth. He points to a bottle of boiled water over against the wall, and says that it’s the only clean water you can drink, and he wasn’t too sure how clean that was. I’m thinking, oh great, can’t shower, and can’t drink the water, what’s next.
I go clean up as best I can and climb in bed for a good nights sleep. The room is not too bad at all and I’m off to sleep in no time. All throughout the night, I’m periodically awakened by the sounds of artillery fire. In what seemed like a half hour later, I hear this almighty banging on doors and the Sergeant Major shouting, “Get your lazy butts out of bed.” I’m wondering what’s going on then Crash, Crash, Crash, he’s banging on my door and he’s shouting, “You too Air Force, it’s time to get up.” I sort of open one eye and see that it’s just barely daylight when Bang, Bang, Bang, he beats on my door again and says, “Thought you might need a second wake up on your first day.” I hear good-natured cursing and complaining coming from all over the place.
I get out of bed and get into my uniform, give my face and hands a quick wash, brush my teeth and head for the mess hall. The Sergeant Major and I are the only two there so far. There are two or three Vietnamese women clattering dishes around so I think we are going to get something to eat. The Sergeant Major says, “Look, you’re probably going to have a pretty busy day today, so let’s just grab a cup of coffee and go get our talk out of the way, we can get some breakfast later.”
He leads me down to his room and I take a look around. He’s got a room to himself with a fridge and a coffee pot on a hot plate. He has a little table and a couple of chairs in addition to his bunk. Everything is as neat and tidy as can be. We sit down and he starts explaining how things work around here. He stresses that as far as he is concerned, he doesn’t care if we’re Army or Air Force we’re all on the same team and we’ll all be treated exactly the same. That sounded good to me, as I had been a bit concerned that we might be considered outsiders in this Army camp. I knew that this one-team concept might not be to everyone’s liking, but I could see the sense of it immediately. Most of it was pretty routine sort of stuff including don’t mess around with the women here. He tells me that most of them are either married, have Vietnamese boyfriends or family that just wouldn’t appreciate them getting involved with one of the Americans. I didn’t have any problem with that, as I was pretty doubtful that I would be tempted by any of the local beauties anyway. Then we get to the Sergeant of the Guard duty roster. The Sergeant Major proceeded to tell me that every able-bodied NCO in camp takes their turn on the roster and I would be added to the list. I explain to him that I’m not an NCO, but I’m only an Airman First Class which is an E4, the equivalent of say a Specialist 4th Class. He sort of gives me a good hard look for a moment, not unfriendly, but kind of questioning like he’s feeling his way. Then he says, “You’ve got three stripes on your sleeve and that makes you a Sergeant and an NCO the way I see it. He was wrong of course, but I wasn’t going to be the one to argue the point with him, if he wanted to consider me a Sergeant, I could live with that. When he was sure that I wasn’t going to argue about it, he sort of smiled at me and said he knew that promotions were a little harder to come by in the Air Force than they were in the Army, and if I’d joined the right branch of service I would probably be an E6 by now, or even an officer. Let me tell you, this old Sergeant Major was one pretty slick guy, massage the ego a little then whammy, you’re on the Sergeant of the Guard roster and proud of it.
After that we went back to the mess hall for breakfast, it was still barely daylight, and Captain Reed (the ALO/FAC at Song Be) told me to meet him in the Operations Office as soon as I’ve finished with breakfast. In the S-3 office I met the rest of the Air Force team members, Lieutenant Stretch and Airman First Class Hagler, the air- plane mechanic. Captain Reed says that we are authorized three more pilots, another radio operator, and another maintenance man, but every place is undermanned right now, so we would all just have to work harder than we normally would. He asked me if the Sergeant Major had spoken to me yet and I told him yes. “Did he tell you that you would have to pull Sergeant of the Guard and what do you think about it?” I said that he did, and I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be on the roster, given the small number of people that he has to work with. Then Captain Reed said that there were two Army Spec 4’s that hadn’t been put on the roster and that he can get me out of the duty if I really don’t want to do it.
I said, “The way I see it, sir, if you can spare me a little time to get some rest afterwards, I’ll do it. The Sergeant Major has this one-team concept in mind, and to tell you the truth I don’t mind being on the same team with these guys.
Capt Reed says, “I’m really glad you feel that way about it, because that’s going to make all of our jobs a lot easier. I had to get Hagler out of it because he’s only here temporarily and he has a little night vision problem. We have a very good working relationship with all of the people here and I want to keep it that way – if you have any problems with any of the enlisted men, the Sergeant Major will straighten it out. There are different people and different personalities coming through here all the time and sooner or later you’re liable to have a difference of opinion with one of them, let the Sergeant Major handle it. If there’s a problem with an officer, bring it to me. All of a sudden, I’m feeling pretty good about being at Song Be, I’ve just had an intelligent conversation with a very senior Army enlisted man and now an Air Force Captain who seems to treat me like a real person. Most of my previous contact with these ranks has been less than pleasant. I can tell that working with Air Force officers, that actually fly planes in combat, is going to be a lot different than working with the office types I’ve worked with before. I sort of had a sneaking suspicion that this might be the case, as I had just gone through an Aircrew Survival Course, with mostly flying types, and found that these people really were a lot easier to get along with than what I had experienced previously.
All too soon my first night of guard duty came around. Actually, I’d been kind of looking forward to it as a break in the routine. I’d had another busy day with a lot of air strikes, but this would be a different challenge. I reported to the Sergeant Major just a bit earlier than necessary so he could brief me on what was expected of me. He walked around the camp with me to all the guard posts and told me to check them randomly throughout the night. He cautioned me about doing it in a pattern as this would give a sniper a good chance of a hit and that it was best that the guards never know when to expect me, so they stay alert and watchful. He explained the procedure for filling the water tank at night and told me that there is a float valve, like in a toilet cistern, that would automatically shut off the pump when the tank was full. He instructed me that the front gate of the camp was not to be opened by anyone other than himself or the B-Team Commander. If someone showed up at the gate during the night, regardless of who they were or who they claimed to be, they were not to be allowed inside until either he or the Colonel verifies their credentials. He advised me that this happens from time to time and not to let it worry me. Finally he says that if there is any small arms fire or anything else out of the ordinary that I am to beat on an empty artillery casing until everyone is headed for the bunkers. Sounded like a breeze to me. The Sergeant Major posted the CIDG guards at sundown and I was officially on duty.
I decided to make a quick trip around the guard posts while it was still light enough to see the faces of the guards. Okay, no problem there, they all had individual differences so I shouldn’t have any problem identifying them in the dark. There is one guard post that I’m not quite sure of though. The guard is posted across the road in a separate supply storage compound. I checked with the Sergeant Major before it got too late and he told me not to worry about it since I won’t be going out of the compound to check on that guard anyway. I ask how I would know he’s not sleeping or something. The Sergeant Major says that the guard is probably in the most vulnerable position of all, and it’s pretty unlikely that he would risk falling asleep; remember he’s out there by himself so he is going to stay hidden away somewhere. He knows that if anything is stolen, he and his family will be out of here as soon as I can throw them out the gate.
For the first few hours everything was quite routine. I’d pumped the water from the trailer into the tank on the water tower and that didn’t seem to be any problem. And by now I think I’ve tried every variation of randomly checking the guard posts. This time around, I detect a little nervousness by the guard on the far right corner of the berm on the western side of the camp. I stop there with him for a few moments and he seems to be indicating that he hears something down the slope towards the river. I can’t hear anything other than the usual mosquitoes and other creatures that are always out there. I continue making my checks. A few minutes later, when I come back to the west berm again, the guard in the middle is indicating that he thinks he’s heard something too. I go back to the guard on the right and this time he seems really agitated and upset. I listen again (I have very good hearing) and still nothing. I tell the guard to take a ten-minute break and I’ll take his guard post until he gets back. I stay as motionless and quiet as I can and after a minute or two I think I hear something, but I can’t be sure. The guard comes back and we both hear something now, and so does the guard to our left. Okay, I now have a big decision to make. Should I go wake up the Sergeant Major, or should I try and handle this myself. I decide it wouldn’t do any harm to pop a couple of flares to try and see something. I kind of hesitate to do it because the flares will louse up our night vision for the next 15-20 minutes. Then I come up with a solution, I go tell the center guard and the one on the left that we are going to put a flare up and I want them to look off towards the left until is starts to burn out. I’m not sure if this is going to work or not but it’s a plan.
When I get back over to the right hand side, the Vietnamese guard is now ready to open fire. I tell him to go ahead and put up a flare, which he does very quickly. All of a sudden we see something green moving in the grass about 10- 15 meters down the hillside and we both open fire at the same time. The other two guards start firing as well. Almost at once, small arms and machine gun fire erupts all along our side of the river. (Possibly from the adjacent compounds) All of this is happening very quickly, we’ve stopped the movement and I run back towards the center of the camp to beat on the artillery casing and sound the alarm. It’s not really necessary; by this time everyone is running towards the bunkers already. I tell the Sergeant Major and Colonel Roy that we have movement on the hillside and then take off for my combat station in the communications bunker.
The firing goes on for maybe 15 or 20 minutes then starts to die off. By the time all of the firing has ceased, it’s just starting to get daylight. Not long afterwards the Sergeant Major comes down into the commo bunker and says, “Congratulation Sergeant Meade, you’ve just zapped the first VC lizard that I’ve ever heard of, and it’s a big one too. I go back over to the west berm with him and sure enough there is some sort of lizard about six feet long laying there in the grass just where we had seen the movement. Several of the other guys come over to take a look too. Rather than being angry, they all started carrying on like this was the funniest thing that had happened in a long time. Then the ribbing started. Hey Wing Nut, did he put up a good fight – why didn’t you just put an Air Strike in on him – yeah, put a little napalm on him and we could have barbequed lizard. On and on and on they kidded; it goes without saying, I was very embarrassed. This humor went on for several days until the story had been told and retold to all and sundry. I even heard different versions of the story from people that hadn’t even been in camp at the time. I was well and truly sick of this story by the time it had run its course.
I’m pleased to say that the second night of Sergeant of the Guard duty was pretty routine other than some more good-natured reminders to try not to shoot Sarge (a pet German Shepherd) or the monkey (another pet). My third time around on the Sergeant of the Guard duty roster I wasn’t to be so lucky. About 2 o’clock in the morning I heard a short burst of automatic weapons fire come from our supply compound across the road. I don’t know why, but contrary to my instructions (I should have beat on the alarm), I ran to the bunker nearest the front gate to see what was going on. I could see a CIDG soldier waving furiously that he wants someone to come over. I woke up the Sergeant Major and told him there had been gunfire in the supply compound. Surprisingly, he is instantly alert and good-naturedly says that the guard probably shot a rat. He wasn’t concerned that I hadn’t roused the whole camp. He went across the road to the supply compound and comes back quite quickly and tells me to go wake up the Colonel and get George (the Interpreter). It turns out that our guard had shot and killed an ARVN soldier, from the adjoining compound, that had been in the process of helping himself to our supplies. In the dark, the guard had assumed him to be a VC or he probably wouldn’t have shot him. As soon as the Colonel gets a grip on the situation, he tells me to get the Special Forces commo man to call their headquarters at Bien Hoa and get a chopper up here by first light. I get the impression that this sort of thing might have happened elsewhere and it was a far more serious event than it at first seemed to me. The Colonel told George to get a relief guard for the man in the supply compound. He then told the guard that had been relieved to go get all of his personal property packed up and to be ready to leave before daylight. Well, this particular guard had a wife and two kids to pack up as well. George told him just to put all their things to one side and we would see that the whole lot was sent down Bien Hoa to him on the next aircraft.
From what I could make of it, the Vietnamese military was likely to want to put our guard on trial for killing one of their troops. Ethnic animosity between the ARVN and our indigenous CIDG guards was always a problem and probably always would be. It was pretty unlikely that our guard would receive a fair hearing and we were not about to turn him over to them for execution. The best solution was to get the guard and his family completely away before the dead soldier was discovered. We got the guard and his family out at first light and then tell the ARVN that one of their soldiers had been killed in our supply compound. The reaction is instantaneous, ‘Where is the guard now? We need to question him?’ (We had a pretty good idea of how they would have questioned the guard and feel quite sure we had done the right thing). When the Colonel tells them he’s already on his way to Nha Trang, 5th Special Forces Headquarters (which he wasn’t), they become a little belligerent and make a few threats, but Colonel Roy handles them well. They leave in a bit of a huff but the Sergeant Major says they’ll get over it. I apologize for not beating on the bell per instructions and I’m told that it’s just as well that I hadn’t, or we probably wouldn’t have been able to get the guard out of town with-out a lot more trouble. The Sergeant Major says, “You’re learning Sergeant Meade, we just might make a Special Forces trooper out of you yet. Colonel Roy nods and I think I’ve just been paid a compliment.
Later that day when I come back to my room there is a set of Special Forces Tiger Fatigues on my bed and I assume that it was the Sergeant Major’s way of telling me that I’d made the grade. It wasn’t long after that I was invited to go on my first ground operation with the Special Forces.
For the next few days everything went along pretty routinely and then my turn came up on the Sergeant of the Guard roster again. The only thing different than normal was that Colonel Roy asked me to make sure that he was up and about before first light, as we’ve had some visitors coming up from Bien Hoa. I made a mental note to check in on Colonel Roy at the same time I woke up the Sergeant Major.
It had been one of those hot dry days that you knew was going to turn into a hot humid night later on. The mosquitoes were already thicker than usual. At around 0200 I start the water pump to fill the tank on the water tower for the next day, as always, and then I continue making my checks of the guard posts. Coming back up from the west berm, I could hear water splashing and I figured something was wrong with the pump. Water was cascading over the sides of the tank on top of the tower and the pump was still pumping away. I try to find the shut off switch on the water trailer, but either there wasn’t one or I just couldn’t find it in the dark. I decide that rather than wake up the Sergeant Major, I’ll just go ahead and climb up the tower to the tank and lift the float to shut off the switch. I was scrambling up the tower in the dark as the water was cascading down all over me and it really felt good. I got to the top of the tank and noticed that the access hole in the top of the tank was covered by a piece of sheet metal. I started to imagine that there were probably lots of spiders and other creepy crawlies down inside the tank. Okay, I decided to just lift the sheet metal, jam my arm down inside, grope for the arm on the float valve and quickly lift the float ball until the water stopped running. I thrust my arm down inside the tank and instant agony. There’s another piece of sheet metal partially covering the access hole and I’ve just put one heck of big gash in my arm from my wrist to my elbow. I reach in again, a little more carefully, find the float arm without any trouble and shut down the pump.
When I got back down from the water tower I looked to see what sort of damage I’d done to my arm. The mosquitoes were really getting thick now with the smell of the blood and I was swatting them off my face, neck and whatever other flesh was exposed. The arm didn’t look too bad, it was just one of those ugly scrapes, about an inch wide and running from my wrist to my elbow. It was stinging like the devil and bleeding like crazy, but it wasn’t a serious injury. I had taken my web gear off and leaned my rifle against a bunker wall while I climbed the tower. Everything was all splashed with red mud now from the water pelting into the ground. The rifle mechanism was still clean so I could take care of cleaning up the rest of it in the morning.
The combination of sweat, mud and blood (the scrape was still oozing little droplets of blood) was attracting more and more mosquitoes and I was slapping away at them like a madman. I decided that I had to get the arm covered up and that might help keep the mosquitoes away. I didn’ t want to go fumbling around in the medical bunker or I’ll probably wake up the whole camp, so decided to see what I could find in the mess hall. Ah, a reasonably clean dishtowel would do the job just fine. After considerable fumbling trying to tie the towel on with my left hand, I get it secured well enough to last until morning when I could see better.
The rest of the night was uneventful. Just before dawn I woke up the Colonel and the Sergeant Major and went to make one last check of the guard posts for the night. I had gotten used to offering the guards a cigarette when I did this final round, as there was no longer a problem with night blindness by then. They seemed to appreciate it. By the time I got back up to the front gate I could see that the Colonel’s guests must have already arrived. Through the open windows, I could also hear Colonel Roy and someone else talking in the mess hall. I went in the back door of the kitchen to ask the cook to save me something for breakfast while I went and cleaned up. Colonel Roy must have heard me talking to the cook, because he called me to come over to the table where he was sitting with two Air Force Officers (a Major and a Captain) in flight suits. Colonel Roy asked me if I had just come in from a field operation (which I found a little odd, since I’d just woken him up). I replied, “No sir, just a few little problems on guard duty during the night. For some reason, I could see that the Colonel was amused by something and the two Air Force officers looked a little stunned. Colonel Roy went on to tell me that the Major and Captain were from the F-100 unit at Bien Hoa that provides our air support in the event of an attack on our camp. I explain to them briefly that I’m the Air Force Radio Operator for the Tactical Air Control Party, which is part of the Special Forces team here in Song Be. I told them that I was sure our FACs would like to meet them, but I doubted they were aware of their arrival. It wasn’t quite six o’clock in the morning yet.
I tried to excuse myself, saying that I had to go and make our morning weather report to Bien Hoa and get cleaned up before our FACs were ready to takeoff on their first missions of the day. They ask me who operated the radios while I rested after pulling night guard duty. I explained to them that I had worked all day yesterday, pulled guard duty all night, and would probably be on the radios until six or seven tonight. I went on to say, that with as few people as we had here, everyone had to work a little harder. Well, by now, they are positively gob smacked and Colonel Roy is just beaming – he’s really getting a kick out of this for some unknown reason to me. I tell them again that I really have to get moving or Bien Hoa will be screaming about not getting their weather report on time. Colonel Roy says, go ahead Sergeant Meade and also get the medic to take a look at that arm after you get cleaned up. I stuck out my hand to shake hands with them and then I noticed how grimy and dirty I was and just sort of gave them a salute. I notice the Sergeant title didn’t miss their attention either, as they had sort of a quizzical look on their faces, knowing from the three stripes on my sleeve that I was an Airman First Class. I just thought to myself, around here at Song Be, if the Sergeant Major says you’re a Sergeant then by damn you are a Sergeant, and who am I to argue with a US Special Forces Colonel or Sergeant Major.
I made the weather report and dashed to the latrine to grab a quick shower. I get a look at myself in the mirrors over the sinks and could now understand why the two Air Force officers had been so shocked. I looked like I should have been on the first Med-Evac flight available. Blood and mud were splattered all over my face, neck, and uniform and even matted down my hair, with the dirty and blood stained towel around my arm and red eyes from lack of sleep, I really looked a mess.
I finally got cleaned up and went back to the mess hall to get my breakfast. Colonel Roy called me over to the command table again. He was positively beaming? The Air Force officers had already gone back to Bien Hoa. The Colonel told me that it couldn’t have been better if he had planned it that way. Then he explained that the purpose of the visitors coming to Song Be was to determine what sort of response we might need should we have to call for help during an attack. They had all agreed, without the slightest question, that an immediate and forceful response was necessary and we could expect fighter support within 15 minutes of notification. From what the Air Force officers had seen, they were confident that we would never call for support if we didn’t really need it very badly. I was beginning to feel like it had been a long day already – it was only 0630.