The expression “above and beyond the call of duty” is used by the US Army to
describe heroic acts or exceptional performance of duty. This story is a
good candidate for “exceptional performance of duty” and concerns a former
Bravo Company trooper who wishes to remain anonymous. I learned of this
story in bits and pieces, but my suggestion that it should be written up for
“Our Stories” was not well received. After some persistent arm-twisting an
agreement was reached that I could tell it providing his identity was
concealed. Apart from the fact that he served in Bravo Company during our
period, there is no reference to the time of this incident, the name of his
platoon, and so on.
Trooper X was a draftee with an associate degree in science and he followed the standard route for infantry recruits bound for Vietnam; eight weeks of Basic Training, followed by eight weeks of Advanced Infantry Training and then shipped off to Vietnam after a two-week leave. As his orders were changed at the reception center in Vietnam, this indicates that he was assigned to Bravo Company as a replacement for one of our casualties.
When he joined his platoon, he felt like a newbie and was treated like one by the other members of his squad. However, the initiation process was short and after exposure to enemy fire and a stint of walking point for his platoon, he was quickly accepted as a fully-fledged member of the team. He also discovered that he was being integrated into a very special relationship, described at our section on Bonds Between Soldiers. This special relationship was highly valued by Trooper X and prompted him to make a very unusual decision.
Trooper X was critically wounded during a combat operation and there is no doubt that his life was saved by the immediate and professional treatment by a medic. Within a matter of minutes, he was evacuated from our field location on a medevac helicopter and flown to the closest US Army Field Hospital. Once his condition was stable, he was evacuated to Japan and then on to a hospital near Presidio in San Francisco. After a period of recuperation, he was assigned to a provisional company at Fort Ord. Seriously wounded soldiers evacuated to the States were not sent back to Vietnam to complete their tours.
While at Fort Ord, he kept abreast of the news concerning the 1st Cavalry Division and our operation in the A Shau Valley. He also received a copy of our company photograph taken in March 1968 at Quang Tri. He recalled that whenever he looked at this highly treasured photograph of his Bravo Company buddies, the faces appeared to say “why aren’t you with us?” The Bravo Company photo not only reminded him that he missed his buddies, but also provoked a feeling of guilt for having abandoned them. This combination of “buddies” and “guilt” finally convinced him that he had to volunteer to return to Bravo Company.
Against the advice of his parents, he volunteered for another tour in Vietnam and despite numerous bureaucratic obstacles, he did manage to return to the 2nd Battalion, 8thCavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). We all realize that front-line combat duty plays a very prominent role in our lives and it was with Bravo Company where we experienced a unique form of comradeship with other members of our squad and platoon. For those who were wounded in action, these special relationships were abruptly severed in a matter of minutes and there was no short-timer period with plenty of time for saying goodbye to your buddies. Although not many wounded soldiers volunteered to return to Vietnam, there are indications that many combat soldiers who were medically evacuated to the States felt guilty because they had “let their buddies down”. We also know that some of our troopers who rotated from Bravo Company prior to the Battle of Dak To and the A Shau Valley operation had expressed similar views. So the bottom line of this story is that even after their departure from Vietnam, these former Bravo Company troopers retained a strong feeling of attachment to their old unit and profound concern for the safety of their buddies.
Prepared by Peter O'Sullivan
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