Cover image for The soldiers' story : Vietnam in their own words
The soldiers' story : Vietnam in their own words
Steinman, Ron, 1934-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : TV Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
367 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


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Central Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Clearfield Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Concord Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
East Aurora Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Lake Shore Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Lancaster Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Anna M. Reinstein Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Audubon Library DS559.5 .S746 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In May 1966, 31-year-old Ron Steinman found himself Saigon bureau Chief for NBC News. Steinman left Vietnam two and a half years later. But the experience never left him. He reported in Saigon during the Tet Offensive and the siege of Khe Sanh, and was based in Hong Kong as Saigon fell in 1975.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Award-winning journalist Steinman interviewed veterans from the major battles of the Vietnam War. Besides accounts of Tet and Khe Sanh, 77 men tell the stories of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the secret war behind the lines in Laos and Cambodia, the air war, and finally the fall of Saigon. There is no attempt to make sense of the Vietnam conflict--if that's even possible. One of the echoes from a number of soldiers is that the war never seemed to be about love of country, apple pie, or belief in domino theories but about personal survival and the survival of "the guy in the hole next to you." In describing the Siege of Khe Sanh, one captain says, "I took 240 people up there. I brought back a whole seventy-seven days later nineteen of them." Of all the words written since the war, few are as powerful as those of soldiers recalling their own experiences in a war that lasted too long and came to such an inglorious end. --Marlene Chamberlain

Publisher's Weekly Review

Veteran newsman Steinman was NBC's bureau chief in Saigon from 1966 to 1968. His continuing interest in the war led to his involvement in the production of the Learning Channel's The Soldiers' Story (to be rebroadcast on July 23, 1999). This book, a collection of oral interviews with veterans, is the written accompaniment to that TV documentary. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they learn the details of war presented by 77 combatants representing all four branches of the armed forces, as well as by men who took part in the "Secret War" in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The book's six chapters include details of the fighting in the Ia Drang Valley, the siege of Khe Sanh, the 1968 Tet offensive, the air war and the fall of Saigon in 1975. Readers can thrill to the harrowing rescues of downed pilots, suffer with POWs brutalized in North Vietnam, share in the chaos of battle when the enemy is so close in the jungle that hand-to-hand combat occasionally breaks out, go with small teams of men working behind the lines and feel sorrow when a comrade is killed. This is, quite simply, a powerful book that brings to life the triumphs and tragedies experienced by American soldiers in Vietnam. Then-and-now photographs of each contributor are spaced appropriately throughout the text. This excellent compilation of oral histories belongs on every Vietnam bookshelf. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Clinton Poley Assistant Machine Gunner 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile)     Clinton Poley and his platoon are aboard a flight of assault helicopters in pursuit of what everyone thinks are the retreating North Vietnamese troops. In a classical tactic, the choppers set down in Landing Zone X-Ray. To their surprise, Poley and his men land in the middle of the North Vietnamese regulars, who turn and fight their pursuers. The 7th Cavalry soldiers quickly discover they are in a dangerous and very hot landing zone. During the heavy fighting, Poley suffers serious wounds on 70 percent of his body.     We landed in grass about five feet tall. We didn't know where the rest of our guys were. They sent one guy over from our company to lead us to the rest of the company, and I remember he was complaining because he had a hole in the top of his canteen where a bullet had gone through and his water had all leaked away, and he was wearing the canteen on his hip when it happened. We had a guy that was only there six days, our first replacement. He was our ammo bearer for the machine gunner. He never made it to our position, and he got killed.     We hadn't a whole lot of combat so you were kind of lulled into thinking that maybe you'd get this tour in, nothing big would happen. There was a lot of ways to die. We had two guys got killed in a helicopter crash, and one drowned, and one of our guys got shot by one of our men out on the perimeter.     They showed us where the rest of the guys were from our platoon and spaced us out and had us start digging a foxhole, but you could hear the bullets cracking around you. The area that I was in, we never fired our rifles that afternoon, that is, me and the machine gunner.     The next morning when they really hit my company, it was just getting barely daylight. They sent a patrol of our guys to look for infiltrators or something. They were only out there for a few minutes, and one guy came running back and he said, "They're coming. They're coming." And somebody over a foxhole away said, "Who's coming?" You know, like who would you think? We couldn't even see the foxholes. We couldn't even see the rest of our guys. We all opened up firing, and the machine gunner was pretty much prone, and I was on my knees in a foxhole. I had hooked hundred-round belts of ammunition together for him, and he was firing them up pretty fast. So I really didn't get to use my rifle much. Well, in doing that, then that's when I first got wounded in the neck. All of a sudden something hit me in the back of the head and, real hard, knocked my head forward so that my steel helmet fell off in the foxhole, and I quick turned around because I thought there was a guy had snuck up behind me and hit me with the butt of his rifle. Wasn't nobody there.     So then I took my hand and felt, and my finger was all bloody, and it felt like it went in a round hole. I was still conscious so I took my bandage thing and put it over there and went back to help. We only had one grenade each going in there. And pretty soon I heard a North Vietnamese speaking or Vietnamese speaking, and I was going up on my knees to try and see above the grass, you know, real quick, and then down and off to our right a little bit was four NVA. I could see the pith helmets, and I don't think they seen me. The front guy was kind of turning around like, barking out instructions, and they were spread out about three yards apart.     On top of this ant hill that was supposed to be where the platoon leader and everybody was, there was this NVA looking right down on us. And I threw the only grenade that I had, and it went just where I wanted it to, right over his head. I don't know if it was the same guy or one that looked like him popped right back up after it went off. But he picked up one of his grenades and threw it right back at us. It was like these broomstick, Chinese grenades. It landed about eighteen inches from my shoulder. I could see the fuse smoking. And I thought, you know maybe the guy counted too fast, that he was nervous, and I could quick throw it away before it blew up in our faces, and I was going to reach for it and the machine gunner said, "Get down." And for some reason I did. When that thing went off, there's a lot of dust and smoke and neither one of us got any shrapnel.     The machine gun had also been jamming, giving problems, and the whole bottom of the foxhole was full of spent casings. And when that dust and smoke kicked up, neither one of us said anything. We just upped at once and got out of there, and I got a ways from the foxhole, and that's when I got hit in the chest. It felt like a cow kicked me. Just that little bullet. You can't believe the impact of it. And it twisted me so sideways that I tripped up over my own legs and fell down. The trees were nothing you could hide behind. So I got back up and went a few more steps, and that's when I got hit in the hip. I came to part of a mortar platoon, and then the platoon leader had two guys take me to the battalion command post.     I was laying there not knowing what, what the wound to my leg here amounted to. I was already thinking, well, if they had to take that leg, could I still farm? And we have an old tractor that had a hand clutch, so I was thinking, that, possibly with a tractor like that I could get around okay and get the work done. So it was kind of funny. Kind of selfish thought, I guess, laying there, thinking that. The strange part that I don't understand is, you'd think a day like that would be the longest day in your life, and every time I think through, it's like I can't figure out how the day went that fast. It just seemed like you know, ten o'clock in the morning, we was going to leave for that place, and the next thing it was getting dark. After being wounded I was kind of numb or something and it wasn't terribly painful for me ... probably mostly the one in the hip.     In the morning they just threw us in the helicopter. I carried my own IV bottle, while four guys carried me. They put me and the other guys on a stretcher. I remember one strange feeling was they just took an awfully sharp scissors or something and started right down there at the boot strings and cut everything all the way up. And they started giving me a transfusion. And it was already cool in the morning there, and I suppose the blood was cold and I was pretty much shivering on the trip.     In the hospital they was giving me shots, you know, for pain every four hours. After about three hours, they would come to take your temperature and wake you up, and then you had to wait another hour to get another pain shot. When they were going to operate on me, they took me right in. And then the electricity went off, and so they had to wait until they could get their generator started. I was so lucky. I was one of the last ones to go in there, and the next morning I was evacuated already. I didn't have to pick up body parts, you know.     When the one hit me in the head, I thought I'd seen a mental picture, when my head was down there, of me laying in the casket with the green uniform on, and the funny thing was I had the cap on in the casket, which you wouldn't have. I just knew that I was going home and I guess it's kind of like the two extremes. You're feeling as happy as you ever felt because you survived, but you're feeling as bad as you ever felt because you're never going to see these guys again. I didn't get to help to pick up any bodies. I didn't get to help anybody. I became somebody that had to be helped. When I was laying there at the ant hill waiting to be evacuated, that's when the napalm just missed it, and I felt a blast of heat from that, and a kid come running around there screaming. It had apparently hit him, and his whole face was just like an ugly Halloween mask.     I may hear a beautiful song or a bird, or see some beautiful scenery, and I think of all the guys who aren't here to enjoy such things. They never owned a microwave oven. Never owned a calculator, nor seen a man walk on the moon. It's not so much what we went through as it is knowing what the other guys went through. They died dirty. No bath or shower in two months. They died cold or hot. Hungry and exhausted. Some died trying to keep their intestines inside their bodies. They died thinking that their loved ones would never know how they died. They died among ants, scorpions, and snakes. They hadn't laid on a mattress or soft bed for two or three months. They died after two months of not hearing American music. They died without having anything cold to drink in over two months.     The whole two months I was there, I had one shower. When we really had it good in base camp, we got to sleep in our pup tents, which leaked, which had ants in them. One night I just about laid my head on a scorpion. So it was pretty primitive when we was there. No bunkers. No buildings. Couldn't have a light at night to write a letter, when we did have time. Jack Smith Private First Class Charlie Company 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile)     I flunked out of college and then I was thrown out of the house. I thought I needed a two-year vacation from the real world. My draft board told me that before I could work my way back to college, I would be drafted. So why not volunteer for the army? I thought that was a good idea. I was a bit lost, like a lot of kids my age. I was nineteen years old. I wasn't ready for college life yet, and I needed a little adventure in my life. I needed to get away for a while and grow up. A lot of kids find themselves in that position. And in 1964, joining the army seemed like a pretty good idea. The war hadn't heated up yet. People didn't associate joining the army with going to Vietnam and fighting. There really wasn't much fighting in Vietnam. It wasn't a hot issue. This was at a time when everybody, basically, joined the army. It was a common thing to do. People got drafted. It was a place where a lot of young men went to grow up before really going into life, going back to college and so forth.     I signed up for the Special Forces because I had a romantic notion about the army and war and that sort of thing. I wanted to have an adventure for a few years. Through various twists and turns, and the military bureaucracy, I ended up in the infantry. We spent most of our time cleaning our rifles, going on war maneuvers, war games, getting into trouble, very boring barracks duty. Then all of a sudden, one day we were told that all the short-timers were going to be let out of the army. People who had longer time to serve would be merged with an experimental unit called the 11th Air Assault. We knew that they were experimenting with helicopters. We were given M-16s. We were given helicopter training. Then one day in July we listened to Lyndon Johnson give a speech when he announced that he was sending us, the 1st Cavalry Division over to Vietnam and that he was, in effect, declaring war on North Vietnam without really declaring war on North Vietnam. That's when it hit us that we were going into combat. You've got to understand, we were eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. Very young. There hadn't been any Vietnam coverage on television. There hadn't been a war since Korea. None of us had a clue what war was about, even among the non-commissioned officers, the sergeants in my company. Only two or three of them had any combat experience. None of the officers did. We were green, green, green--which is one of the reasons why we got into trouble.     We came over on a troop ship. The night before we hit land, we passed through the Seventh Fleet at about four in the morning. We were all standing on deck with all our combat gear on ready for a combat assault on the beaches of Qui Nhon. We saw all around us the shapes of aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers. And as the dawn broken, we saw wave after wave of aircraft taking off, going over our heads and going inland. In the darkness that still hovered over the hills that we could see in front of us, we saw bomb bursts. We heard the thud of bombs and artillery shells. Then we saw waves and waves of helicopters flying over our heads from the aircraft carriers, carrying more bombs and rockets. Then, in the dawn, we saw the beach in front of us and we said, "My God ... this is war."     We landed on a beach, in full gear, into the surf, jumping off the ships. And we found a bunch of half-naked children, sucking their thumbs, dragging their dolls in the sand and looking at us. We were put on board helicopters or trucks and we were taken down Route 19 into the Central Highlands to An Khe, our base camp. We began with machetes and bayonets and pocket knives to carve out a base camp, chopping down all the shrubbery.     Once, just before Ia Drang, we went out on an operation. We were herded into two-and-a-half-ton trucks. As we were driving along the road, here came a convoy of trucks going in the opposite direction. They were carrying boxes of body bags. Crates of body bags. I brought this to the attention of a couple of guys standing next to me and we stared at the trucks passing by. We were going out, and the body bags were coming in, and they were for us. Nobody said a word. We all just stood in the back of the truck, rattling down the road, staring at the body bags. That was a really chill feeling. That's what combat is all about.     We had been walking through the jungle, looking for VC who were never there. Not finding anything. For two months. A couple of operations where we turned up a couple of booby traps and a pig and a few things like that. That's all. No real fighting. We had fewer combat-seasoned NCOs. We had more goof-offs as privates. We weren't as well-trained--that we were sort of a parade ground outfit, a bit of a sham. That was the real feeling the men had of the battalion. I don't know how really justified it was, but that was the feeling we had. I think we were prepared as any unit's going to get prepared for combat. Nothing prepares you for combat. The best way to prepare a company for combat is to line the company up against a wall and fire a machine gun at them for about ten seconds. And tell the survivors, "You're now combat-trained." That's not pleasant, but that's what combat's like.     We walked in and we got into Landing Zone X-Ray on the third day of the battle there. It was just about over. We were goggle eyes at what we saw. I had never seen men as filthy as that. They didn't seem to be wearing clothing. Their clothing was so covered with dirt, they looked like they were part of the dirt because they had been living in the dirt, living in foxholes for three days. They all had these thousand-eye stare that people talk about. The stare of someone who is nineteen years old but going on fifty, who has seen combat and been killing people and seen his friends killed under continuous bombardment, artillery and napalm, day in, day out. Stacks of dead bodies, stacks of wounded, equipment around the landing zone. And the one thing that sticks in my mind, there were bullets whizzing over the landing zone, humming like bees. The only person standing was this colonel. He was standing in the middle of the landing zone directing traffic like a cop. We were crouched down. It was Hal Moore. That was the first guy I saw in the landing zone. Made a very vivid impression on me.     I didn't know enough to be scared. The thing about a bullet is, you can't see them. All you can do is hear them. And until you connect the sound of a bullet with someone dying, you don't have enough sense to duck. That's actually what kills most people in the early stages of combat. They hear a shot, they stick their head up, and they get killed. Even though there were some minor attacks that day and probes, we really thought it was a bit of a game. Until you've actually shot somebody or been shot yourself, it doesn't really sink in. It was beginning to sink in. When I heard those bullets coming at me, I knew this was real combat. I knew those bullets could kill me. I kept my head down. I said, "Oh, my God. This is real." When the company commander said we were supposed to sit for the night, I dug a foxhole as deep as I could. The ground was as hard as gravel, so you could only dig it about six inches to a foot. Just kept my head down and hoped for the best.     The next day we walked to Landing Zone Albany for what we thought was extraction, being lifted out by helicopter. We were out for a Sunday stroll in the woods. We were strolling along, and we were a little apprehensive because we knew there had been this huge battle. We'd seen the bodies. Leaving the landing zone, you walk on bodies a hundred feet outside the dry creek bed and the foxholes. We knew there were a lot of enemy units around and some of us were a little apprehensive about walking in such a casual fashion. But we did, and a number of us remarked out it. "Shouldn't we have guards out?" And, "There are probably bad guys around here. I hope we don't get ambushed. I hope they (meaning our commanding officers) know what they are doing." In retrospect, knowing what I know now, our walk was a big mistake.     A couple of hours maybe to Landing Zone Albany, we were in an area where the brush was denser elephant grass, chest-high, waist-high, razor grass. In scrub jungle, trees here and there, all around us. Not dense forest but very light forest. You could see the sky. The head of the column broke into the landing zone. A battalion of green troops stumbling around in the jungle the day after the biggest battle of the war against an entire North Vietnamese division, right next to the main infiltration route for them in their territory without any artillery or air cover, is just nuts. Without spraying the trees, recon by fire, without having guards out on the side. It's crazy. I don't know why we were walking through the jungle. I don't know why we were walking that way. It was clearly a mistake. We were green. It wasn't just the privates who were green. Everybody was green. Our captains were green. Our lieutenants were green. Our battalion commanders were green. The whole division was green. And they showed it. We walked right into a big time ambush.     The troops arrived at Landing Zone Albany and waited while their officers interrogated two captured North Vietnamese soldiers.     We just dropped down on our packs on the ground and opened our shirts and lit cigarettes and drank water. And we waited. And we waited. We had no leaders. No more than fifty yards away from an entire North Vietnamese battalion were setting up their ambush quietly behind ant hills. They were tying themselves up in trees while we were sitting there smoking. Our company commanders were having a conference up at the front.     Suddenly the North Vietnamese ambush the unprotected, unsuspecting troops.     I was in a half crouch saying what is this firing that's going on all around me. I turned to the lieutenant next to me--enlisted men always make fun of officers in the barracks but when it comes to combat you always look to the officer for guidance because enlisted men become paralyzed. They fire the guns but they have to be told what to do. The first two platoons of my company just fell down like you take a scythe and cut grass. No noise. Just the rattle of machine guns. These guys were twenty feet away, popping up behind ant hills, spraying us. Dozens and dozens of men with machine guns and submachine guns suddenly popped out of the ground and started spraying us. We were running toward them and I fell on the grass and began to bandage my friends up. The only time I fired my rifle, I was so confused. In combat time stops. You have no idea what you're doing. I looked up in the grass and I saw right in front of my face and right above our heads the muzzle of a machine gun firing through the elephant grass. The firing was so loud I hadn't noticed it. I took my rifle, put it on full automatic, and stuck it through the elephant grass to where I thought the gunner's head would be, and squeezed the trigger and put a magazine into this guy's head and blew his head off. After the battle I was told that right by there was a guy with no head. Probably a nineteen-year-old draftee from the Hanoi Haiphong triangle. A city kid. Probably somebody just like me. I must have been about the only man in the first two platoons who wasn't dead or wounded in the first five minutes. It was the luck of the draw.     There was an older guy who had been in World War II, in Korea. He was dying from a chest wound, lying on his back and I was comforting him and bandaging him up. I heard North Vietnamese coming. I pretended to lie dead. They swept into our clearing on the crouch, a squad of them, maybe five or six guys. They had several light machine guns with them. They saw us. They jumped down right on top of us and used us as sandbags as they set up their machine guns and they started to fire their machine guns. I had a guy lying on top of me. We all played dead. I was covered with so much blood, my friend's blood, that I looked wounded or dead. I just lay still. And I willed myself to stop breathing and not to move. But I could not control myself from shaking. I was so frightened I couldn't stop it. The only thing that saved me was the fact that the guy lying on top of me was shaking even more than I was. Combat is terrifying so he didn't notice that I was shaking, too, and that I was alive. The hot shell casings were going down inside my shirt and burning me. My friends were firing grenades at these guys. I was on the verge of going insane from fear. I said to myself, if I stand up and say, "Guys, don't shoot," the North Vietnamese will kill me. If I lie here, my guys will hit me. No sooner had I thought that, than I felt these huge explosions all around me, and a barrage of rifle grenades landed right in our clearing. One killed the sergeant whose shoulder I was sitting on. And the other grenade landed on top of the guy on top of me and blew him to bits and wounded me on my left side. I was the only person left alive in that little clearing among the Vietnamese and Americans. I bandaged myself, crawled through the grass to where the mortar platoon had been. By then they were just a pile of very badly wounded men. That's where I stayed the rest of the afternoon and night.     Later they started to mortar us. A mortar went off behind me, almost between my legs and got me in the right leg. I actually severed a vein and I had to put a tourniquet on my right leg. It was dusk. I was in a haze of pain and shock but I was alive. I remember pinching myself and saying, "I am alive." The men around me were just groaning. Moaning, semi-conscious. I was sort of semi-conscious. I was saying to myself, "My God, I'm alive." To celebrate that, I wanted a cigarette. I pulled out a cigarette and both ends were bloody so I tore them off. I said, "You know, they'll see the smoke and kill me." I said, "I don't give a damn. I want a cigarette," so I lit the damn thing and I sat there and took two or three drags and it felt heavenly. I can't explain why one does crazy things. I was very lucky.     I heard the Skyraiders coming over the trees and I said, "Oh God, don't drop bombs or napalm on us, please. We're too mixed up, the North Vietnamese and Americans. You'll kill Americans." I saw stuff, big stuff coming down through the trees and I went, "Oh, no." Then in front of me there were a whole bunch of explosions and then there was a blast of heat like you open an oven door and the grass on top of me curled over from the heat. I heard people screaming and I heard them hollering in English, not just Vietnamese. Some of it got some Americans and it was right next to my position. That's really frightening. Napalm is really, really scary. It's a very effective weapon, though.     They were going through the elephant grass in the afternoon and at night killing the wounded. You would hear them walking through the grass talking Vietnamese. Then you would hear a lot of loud talking and then you would hear a GI's voice, "No, no. Don't shoot me." Then you would hear bang, bang, bang. They were going around killing the wounded systematically.     The wounded mortar platoon leader calls artillery in on their position, eventually causing the North Vietnamese troops to retreat.     That's what kept us all alive. Otherwise we all would have been killed. I think I passed out for a while. When I woke up it was getting to be daylight. The ground was littered with smashed equipment. Everything had been ripped and torn by bullets. The elephant grass was pressed down, squashed, cut down by bullets and fragments. The grass and ground were literally covered with blood. Everywhere you put your hand was sticky with blood and the place smelled of gunpowder, blood, and urine. There were North Vietnamese snipers hanging out of the trees, dead on ropes. They'd tied themselves up. In front of me was a dead man staring up at the sky. He had dirt on his eyeballs, and one of his legs was gone. There were body parts lying all around me. The dead were stacked on top of each other, sometimes with their hands around each other's throats. It looked like the devil's butcher shop. I've never seen anything like that in my life, and I hope I never, never ever do again.     When they came to get us out, our guys were walking toward us and I had a radio by then. I heard this burst of fire and I said, "Don't shoot, don't shoot." They said over the radio, "We're killing North Vietnamese wounded." And I said, "Don't kill the wounded, please. Don't kill the wounded." I didn't want any more killing. They said," No, they did it to us. They hurt us. We're going to hurt them back." So the people who came to rescue me as they walked through the woods were killing the North Vietnamese wounded. That was in the heat of battle, I would maintain. I would maintain that what the North Vietnamese did to us was systematic. But at the time it didn't seem like much of a distinction.     I was angry at anybody who had anything to do with that battle. All my friends died there. I was even angry at the state of being human that the weakness of the flesh would succumb to shrapnel and bullets. I said, "How weak and flimsy we are that we all get killed like that." I became very cynical. Not only angry. But I became misanthropic. One day I woke up a few years later and I saw life as it really is. Life is pretty good. The world is a pretty good, warm place. People make mistakes. It happens in other wars. There's nothing I can do about it. Bearing grudges about it doesn't do anybody any good. It struck me that what was remarkable about that experience was not the feebleness of the human beings involved but the magnificent strength that in spite of bullets and shrapnel and things like that, human beings can endure and do endure.     No matter what people go into war thinking they're fighting for, ultimately when you get into combat you fight for completely different reasons. You fight in order to protect your buddies. That's why you form intense relationships in an atmosphere of death and self-preservation. When you're eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old, you've really emotionally separated yourself from your parents. You haven't yet acquired adult friends, an adult job, an adult milieu in which you move. You are betwixt and between. And so the friendships that you form, especially in combat, in the army, are very, very intense. That was the toughest thing I had to deal with after the war. These men, I really loved them, and they all got killed. Time heals. But I still remember them. I still go back to the Wall and I say a prayer for them every one in a while. I still mourn them.     We all found it very hard to accept the pain and suffering that we went through when we ended up losing the war. What, then, in God's name, was the point of what we'd been doing in that landing zone? What in God's name was the point of the suffering that we went through? It was for nothing. If we didn't win the war, and if maybe we shouldn't have been there, then how do you justify the suffering, the loss of friends. You can't. And that's what makes it tough for Vietnam veterans. Earnie Savage 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile}}     Earnie Savage was the fourth man to take command of his platoon in the Ia Drang Valley battle after he and his men landed at LZ X-Ray under heavy enemy fire. In the fierce combat, Savage and his platoon become separated from the main body of Bravo Company. They are the "Lost Platoon."     From the firepower coming down the hill, from the north, stuff that was going on, that was a good-sized unit we were in contact with. We knew that. There was a lot of things going all around us. There was the grenades going off. There was mortars going off. Dust everywhere. Hard to see or get any perception of what was going on around where we are, let alone thirty, forty meters out to the front. There's a lot of noise going on. It's not as if we're strolling down the street. There are people getting shot at all around you. So I took the third squad and flanked around to the right and hit the advancing enemy column. They're trying to maneuver on the squad. They didn't see my squad. They flanked around the bottom side of the hill, and it wasn't that easy to see. The brush was fairly high. And we hit them on the flank and started firing on them before they realized we were there, and we cut those guys down.     I looked around and moved a few guys to strengthen up what I thought was the weak points. I begin to fire just like everybody else did. What was going through my mind was probably kill as many of them as I could at the time. We were fighting for our lives. That's basically what was going through everybody's mind.     I know I don't think there was anyone up on that hill that can say they don't know they killed someone, because they were there. They were right in your face. The numbers don't matter, you know. But there were a lot of people dead ... lot of NVA soldiers died up there.     The next morning my soldiers look like a part of the ground, they've got so much dust and dirt thrown up around them. I look them in the eye, and they look sort of hollow-eyed, because that's the only thing you can see. The whole face is covered with dirt. So the eyes obviously stand out more than any other feature. Everybody's tired, thirsty. Waiting for what's coming next. We were afraid that they were going to overrun us. One thing I never said to anyone else was that I had thought once they started pushing from the LZ that they might just run right back over us. They were a very determined enemy. Very brave. Well-armed. They were brave. Didn't seem to have concern about dying. I think they were a little lacking in training, a little confused on what was really going on there, because they did a lot of things that cost a lot of their soldiers lives that should never have been done. They would just walk across your front as if you weren't even there. You could fire on them. The next thing you know they'd be up, walking again. And when they were trying to flank us, they were just going around the flank, as if it was a training exercise. Until they suddenly realized that it was for real. So they made a lot of mistakes, and their mistakes is one reason that platoon survived.     I don't think anybody is willing to die for anyone. I think they're willing to take the risks that they may be killed, to save someone else. There's a difference.     Before the battle, I always wondered what I would actually do under circumstances like that. Now I know, no different than anyone else. I would do what I was trained to do. Just as everyone else did. I think every soldier has the fear of not performing under fire. Once you've gone through that, then you know you've faced the test. You never voiced those things. No one ever does. But it's in the back of most people's minds. Would I go back and do it again? Voluntarily? Go into battle like that one? I'd be stupid to do that. You know? Do I hate that I was ever involved in it? No. Do I hate that there ever was a battle in Vietnam? Now, possibly. Do I regret it? No. Would I want to do it again? No.     The battle of Ia Drang is one of the first major battles over there where we were pitted against regular North Vietnamese army. And we did very well against them. We can't see what we gained out of the battle itself. And nobody's asking for anything from anybody, and thank you for fighting the battle because that time is passed. Just understand there were people there. The soldiers were people.     You either do it all as a group or you die separate, individually. That's just the way the concept is. When you're with a unit, bad decisions, good decisions are made. It affects the whole unit. If the platoon moved, the whole platoon moves, or the whole platoon dies. That's what it amounts to. I think your training always takes over when you get a level of fear. At that point, it just levels off, and you just do what you're trained to do. Copyright © 1999 Ron Steinman. All rights reserved.

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