Tag Archives: War

SFC James Albert Bunn

SFC James Albert Bunn

by john harrison

On February 2, 1968 Sergeant First Class James Albert Bunn was killed while serving in the Republic of South Viet Nam. He was my platoon sergeant, 2nd Platoon, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 506th (Airborne) Infantry Regiment (aka the “Band of Brothers”), 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. This is a rather long way of saying that he was also my friend.

I gave him the order that resulted in his death. It was Tet ’68.

We knew that we were moving to contact with the enemy that day. It was a question of where and when we hit the enemy, not if. Even as we moved there were already very loud pitched battles going on all over the place, all around us. We expected to hit a well entrenched, well prepared enemy, and we did.

We were looking for the 482nd Viet Cong Mainforce Battalion, near Phan Thiet on the coast of the South China Sea. As the lead platoon we made contact with the enemy first. Early that morning we moved up to a small house. After searching the small house I sent a fire team into the larger blue house next door to the right to clear it too.

They ran into the VC inside the house almost immediately. The last man in the fire team was shot as they ran out of the front door of that blue house. He fell on the front porch and laid there bleeding. He was hurt bad, but alive. Although not that far away, I could see that the porch would be a bitch to get to and then to get away from. I can’t tell you how frustrating that day was or of how many different ideas we tried to get our man off of that porch.

At one point I ordered Sergeant Bunn to take a squad and to see if he could get into the back of the blue house since the front of the blue house was swept by constant rifle and machine-gun fire from several directions. We were literally being shot at from 360°, rifle fire, machine-gun fire, mortars, rockets. You name it; they shot it at us, and we returned the compliment. The level of enemy fire that day was absolutely incredible.

While Bunn tried to get in the back of the house I set about using air strikes, gun ships and artillery to clear out the enemy from our front and left flanks so that I could turn the platoon right and get our man off that damn porch.

Jerry Berry in his excellent book, My Gift to You, (available on Amazon) tells Jim Bunn’s story:

PSG Bunn and Sergeant Stacy Raynor’s squad made their way around the three barbed wire fences that separated the two houses and carefully approached the back of the house. Just before reaching the back of the house PSG Bunn set up the squad in a supporting position and then moved on to the corner of the blue house on his own.

The enemy fire was intense, with heavy fire coming from all directions. With bullets striking all around him, PSG Bunn ran to the back door, threw a hand grenade inside the house and followed it up with several bursts from his M-16 rifle. While standing in that doorway PSG Bunn was shot several times. He was killed instantly.

It took a while, but we finally got our man off that porch and we brought Jim Bunn back as well. The Airborne recovers its dead.

Jim Bunn left his wife Rachel and three young daughters. His name appears on Panel 36E at the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial. He is interred in Riverside Cemetery in Oklahoma.

I think about Jim Bunn just about every day. This and Memorial Day are his days. He earned them both, full and complete on February 2, 1968.

Tet ‘68 was a long time ago. It was yesterday. I remembered him today, and everyday. Platoon Sergeant James Albert Bunn. My friend, a brave and good man. Airborne!

bunn

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Dog Bites Man, Man Bites Back

Dog Bites Man, Man Bites Back

by john harrison

Two items of interest, both almost hidden in the news this morning (4/28/2016). People Magazine and other sources are reporting that Harvard has fielded the first openly transgender man to compete in NCAA Division 1 sports. The second is that a House Committee has passed legislation requiring women to register for the draft.

The law of unintended consequences is about to bite back hard. While it may well be true that it would would be strange even for an adolescent male to claim female gender identity just to peek at women in the bathroom, it goes way to far not to recognize that there are a lot of second tier male athletes that could make a lot of money, get into a lot of colleges that would otherwise be closed, if they competed in college level sports as a woman. A transgender competing as a man just opened that door.

While Bobby Riggs lost a famous tennis match against Billie Jean King years ago, nonetheless he could have made a lot of money playing as a woman on the woman’s tennis tour. Others will see this as an opportunity and act on it. All of the advances women have made in sports due to Title 9 are now at risk. Think if Caitlyn Jenner competed, probably even today.

The opening of the draft to women is the logical result of opening all combat positions in the armed services to women. While some expected that putting women in combat positions would lead to the end of the draft for everybody, the exact opposite is now moving forward in Congress.

The House Armed Services Committee approved legislation requiring women to register for the draft. In 1981 the Supreme Court ruled that since women were banned from combat positions anyway, it was not discriminatory to require only men to register for the draft. Anyone with knowledge of that case recognized that opening combat positions to women placed young women at risk of being drafted for those same positions.

It may still happen that that the draft will be abolished rather than add women to the lists. On the other hand we live in a dangerous world; we are in a shooting war in at least some sense in the Middle East already; but our armed force strength is relatively low and going lower. People think that the draft was instituted to raise large armies and in part that is true, but most of all it was created to deliver reliably the exact number of men that could be trained at any given time. It does not overstate the case to say that in the future a president may well be faced with the horrific choice of either bringing back the draft for everybody or to go nuclear on the battlefield.

The two leading presidential candidates who will deal with these important issues for all of us are Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Donald Trump. I for one am more sanguinary than sanguine about our prospects.

On Going To War

On Going To War

by: john harrison

Several of my former students at Bishop O’Connell High School have asked me about serving in the military. In particular the ones that are soon to be commissioned, but also some now already in the service want to know more about my experience with  leading men in combat who in many cases are much older than they are, and are certainly much more experienced than they are. Understandably, the ones headed to Iraq or Afghanistan are always very concerned about how they will react to combat, to battle. This is what I have told them.

I was commissioned at 20 years old. My Platoon Sergeant, Jim Bunn, was 34 at the time. Not only did he have many years of experience in the Army, he had already been to Vietnam. How then do you become the “leader” of such men?

It gets worse, while I had completed a year and a half of college. One of the men in my platoon, a Specialist 4, had two masters degrees. While that is not as likely in today’s all volunteer Army, you will still constantly have people serving under you who are smarter than you are, and who know more about what they are doing than you do. How do you deal with that and remain the leader?

What I had was years of study of military history and even more important I had Officer Candidate School or OCS. I was also very lucky in the men around me, both above me and below, and in the Army’s system of command. One of the things that you will realize very quickly as a junior officer is that in spite of ignorance in some areas, there are still many things that you know that no one else in the platoon knows no matter what their experience or age. More important, you are their platoon leader, and this makes all the difference. 

While it is the real job of a platoon sergeant to train his platoon leader without the platoon leader knowing, that does not mean he knows everything. The platoon sergeant may never have actually called in an airstrike, or artillery, or dust-off. He may know a lot about how to make C-Rations (MRE’s ancestor) palatable in the field, or how to motivate young men, but he may never have had a chance to research a subject overnight sufficient to give a good class on it the next day and about lots of other things that a platoon leader must be able to do.

There are all sorts of parts to the job of being a good platoon leader. At first there are some you will be good at and some you will suck at. However, it is still without question, the all-time, best job I have ever had, 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, Platoon Leader.

You are expected to make mistakes, but your men, and in particular your platoon sergeant want you to be good at your job. They want to laugh at the other guy’s lieutenant, not their lieutenant. In a good platoon they will help you, they will also try to hide your mistakes from those above, and you will make a lot of mistakes. If you listen, particularly to your platoon sergeant, they will help you to act correctly, but the decisions and the responsibility for those decisions will always be yours.

I was very lucky. My first battalion commander, Col. John P. Geraci, was good enough to be recently enshrined in the Ranger Hall of Fame, my first First Sergeant, MSg Theron “Bull” Gergen was already a celebrity in the world of Rangers when I met him and was one of the first enshrined there. Cap. Thomas Gaffney was my first CO, but it was his second war. I had competence and hard won experience all around me. As I said my Platoon Sergeant, Jim Bunn had only recently returned from Vietnam when he joined the platoon. You may have to search for it, but real experience is available if you look.

However, you still need to be careful because some people seem to feel feel that they are building themselves up when they are tearing others down.  While only a moron would believe that this is true, or useful, these people exist in every service. They are the beetles of doubt. Avoid them. 

Hazing for example does not prove you are tough, it proves that you are undisciplined.  Any officer or NCO that lets himself or the men under his command be hazed should be fired, plain and simple.  If I saw it. I would relieve the officer or NCO on the spot, and so would any competent officer.  Why, because hazing has nothing to do with making people better. It has everything to do with allowing some people to feel superior by abusing their authority.  Those kinds of people should not have authority.

Multiple tours proves nothing.  Assuming they are trained, the best soldiers in history were generally pretty good the first time they fought and got better thereafter.  But, everyone has a limit, too.  If you go to war often enough, you will be killed, and over time when men recognize this, it changes them. In any event what did they do during those tours? What happened during those tours? What did they experience, besides just being there?

Even participation in a big battle prove nothing.  As far as the individual infantryman is concerned, a big battle is when they individually have to fight as hard as they can to stay alive.  A squad can undergo as much or more in a single squad action as they would in a big battle that perhaps makes the history books, or the evening news.  In any event, a squad in a big battle might be pulling the shit burning detail the whole time.  While they would know a lot about burning shit, their actual knowledge of battle would be limited. What did they do in that battle? How is it relevant now?

That said, everyone needs to be shot at the first time and they are different thereafter because then they are a veteran.  They know something about them self that others do not know about themselves. When I say shot at, I mean exactly that, not riding around in a truck when a bomb goes off, or sitting in a bunker at a base camp under attack, but out in the field in a combat infantry platoon, or tank squadron fighting an enemy that is trying to kill you, and that is pretty good at it. Then you are a real combat veteran. It is your reaction to the enemy fire that is important, not so much the fire itself. 

The stuff I have read about actions Iraq and Afghanistan, leads me to believe that very few of those who have served in these regions are actually what I would call “combat veterans”.  But, that was also true of Vietnam and every other American war.  There were less than 60,000 trigger pullers in Vietnam when there were over 550,000 troops there.  Probably about 90% of the jobs are still held by REMFs. 

We need the people in the rear, so while I have pulled their chain, I am not really deprecating them, but they are not infantry/tanker/artillery veterans no matter what their MOS.  No matter how many tours they served unless it was in a unit that actually fought the enemy they are not combat veterans. It is doing an infantryman’s job under fire, not just being under fire, that is important.

Anyone in the military who has not been in actual combat wonders how they will react when the bullets fly.  Unfortunately, there is only one way to find out.  Generally after the first jitters are over the problem is not a lack of courage, but actually an excess of bravery.  It needs to be tempered.  Green troops often take too many risks and thereby suffer too many casualties. 

One of the things I was always proud of was that while my platoon suffered a lot of casualties, they were spread over multiple actions over several months.  We did not do stupid, we killed the right people and in general did not allow them to kill us. 

In a sense combat is very much like basketball in that it is a team sport.  Anybody not working on building the team, making the team better has no place in the military.  Anybody who is putting down a fellow soldier, rather than sharing hard earned experience probably has little real experience to share and is not a real soldier however many tours they may have.

It is not how many doors did they kick down, but how many doors did they kick down that had an enemy inside with a machine gun pointed at the door. What did they do then? What did the man covering the entry do? Those are the real questions.

As far as how good is the Army of today, I do not know, but I would be very surprised if they are not better than in Vietnam and WW II if only because they are much better educated.   For example, less than half of the Marines in WW II had a high school degree now almost all do. Education does make a difference.

While being an “infantryman” is easy, being a good infantryman that can go upon today’s very lethal battlefields with a reasonable expectation of both accomplishing your mission and coming back is a rather more difficult proposition. It takes brains. It takes the ability to learn and apply skills that many times you do not even know you have. It takes courage, both the courage to act and the courage not to act even though you may know down deep in you soul that all you want in the world right then is to be able to do one thing, just one thing. However, you do not do that one thing, you do what you are supposed to do instead. When you have done that, you are a combat Infantryman.   

Being really good Infantry is a learned skill.  It is not easy. It is not simple.  It is not just issuing a guy a rifle and expecting them to know what they are doing.  There are a lot of little things that make the difference between living and dying. If you do not know those little things and do not do them almost as second nature then you are not very likely to survive. It is really that simple.

Audi Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II was a farm boy. As was Medal of Honor winning Sgt. Alvin York from World War I. In training, the Army only spends relatively a few hours on the rifle range and shoots relatively a few rounds. In the past America was famous for fielding armies of men that could shoot and shoot well. However, that was mostly because they brought that skill with them to the service.

My brother is a former Marine and an excellent pistol shot. He says that it takes about 5,000 rounds to make a really good pistol shot. It is not likely that you will have the opportunity to shoot that much in the military. In addition, today with the demonization of guns in America very few have had any experience with guns when they enter the service. You will not be getting a platoon full of Alvin Yorks and Audi Murphys. Most of them will not be able to shoot that well at first, and some may even be afraid of the weapon that they carry. That could get them, and you killed.

If you are going to teach other men how to shoot, you need to know yourself. Volunteer for range duty every chance you get. Hang out with people that know how to shoot. It may literally save your life and the lives of men in your platoon. Go to the range. Shoot. Listen. Learn. Practice. Shoot.

The next point is a little more difficult but no less important. While it is necessary to be able to hit a target, it is even more necessary to identify that target first. Both Murphy and York were boyhood hunters. You cannot buy that experience; you cannot even train it; you must experience it and that takes time. Make the time.

Whenever I walk outside to this day, I look for good machine-gun positions, good sniper positions. I look for places I would hide, or I would hide my platoon even though I have not led a platoon in 50 years. However, if you have ever been shot at in the military you will do it too, and you will do it for the rest of your life. Strangely, my wife Sandy, who has never hunted, sees far more than I do when we walk in the woods, so it is a talent as well as a craft that can be practiced. Either way, practice it. You will be surprised at what you see, at how much better you get.

I always felt that I was extraordinarily lucky in the Army.  My battalion trained together as a unit for 6 months before we deployed.  The battalion CO, Col. Geraci, was a Marine in World War II, an Army platoon leader in in Korea, and had already served two tours in Special Forces A teams in Vietnam before he was our commander.  My company commander, Cap. Gaffney, had earned a battlefield commission in Korea, was riffed back to sergeant, made Sergeant Major in Special Forces, served in “A” Teams in Vietnam, and then came back as a Captain to take us to Vietnam. I have already mentioned our First Sergeant, Bull Gergen and my Platoon Sergeant Jim Bunn. These were all men that you could learn from.

And when we were done training, I thought we could kick anybody’s ass which is probably why I once attacked a Mainforce VC battalion with my platoon. Kicked their asses too even though we could not destroy them. Too many to kill, although we and the United States Air Force did our level best all day one day trying to kill them all.

You are not really feeling inadequate if you feel doubt about your ability to fit in to this life.  You are feeling being untested, and you will feel that way until you are shot at doing your job.  It is an essential part of the job. And, while you are correct now that you are untested, after that you will be a veteran, a combat veteran.

I think that the most important thing that I could tell you is to be prepared to improvise. We spent almost all of our time training on how to patrol, on doing ambushes and counter ambush drills, and most of all on how to fight in the jungle. However, we spent almost all of our time actually fighting, doing it in the cities during Tet ‘68. The two have little in common.

Nobody in the battalion had ever done what the Army called then, Fighting In a Built-up Area. Nobody in the battalion was an expert at it when we first did it. I actually used more ideas that I got from watching Victory At Sea and other WW II documentaries as a kid than I did from my Army training. The one thing I learned is that if it works, it is not a stupid idea. In Vietnam we used to take our helmets off, hold them up and move them around for the enemy to shoot at so we could find out where they were hiding. It worked, because unlike us, they had not watched hours of cowboy shows and war movies. If it works, do it, then do it again.

As I said, the best job I have ever had in my life was that of being a second lieutenant, infantry, platoon leader. Best job by far. In that I envy you.  Good luck.

A Vietnam Tale

A Vietnam Tale

by: RonFord

Part one, Training

Airborne! Blood and guts, Ranger Danger!
Airborne! kill, Kill, Ranger Danger!
Airborne! I want to be a Airborne ranger!
Airborne! Live a life of blood, guts and danger
Airborne! KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL, AIRBORNE!

Part two, War

Fear! Death, Death, Death, Blood, guts Danger
Fear! Destruction, Destruction, Blood, guts danger Airborne!
Fear! Burn Baby Burn
Fear! Kill them all, Airborne!
Fear! Let God sort them out, Airborne, Ranger, Danger, KILL!

Part Three, Home Coming

Airborne! Who cares
Airborne! So What
Airborne! Baby killers
Airborne! Depression
Airborne! I wasn’t there
Airborne! SUICIDE! I wasn’t there

Part four, Evaluation

Some Vietnam Veterans still suffer from the war
We are unable to close the door
Theres no conclusion I fear
We just can’t get out of here
I am filled with anger and pain
I think the war fucked up my brain.

Ron Ford
101st Airborne
VN 67-68

The Infantry

The Infantry

by john harrison

Being a good infantryman is much more intellectually and physically demanding than most people realize. It is not easy to go on today’s, and even yesterday’s incredibly lethal battlefields with the reasonable expectation of coming back alive, and of accomplishing your mission. The operative word in that sentence is “reasonable.” That is all an infantryman expects, a reasonable chance, because they intend to make up any difference themselves.

While an infantryman needs training, it is not just good training that makes an infantryman. While an infantryman needs equipment, it is not just good equipment that makes an infantryman. While an infantryman needs strength, it is not just physical strength that makes an infantryman.

OK then you ask, what is it that makes an infantryman?

It is heart. It is the heart to get up when no one else will go. It is the heart to push forward, when no one else will. It is the heart to take one more step, when one more step is sorely needed. It is the heart to care more about the man lying next to you bleeding than you do about your own blood, and that is partly because you know that if he could move, if he could still move, he would have the heart, and he would have the will to move, to help you to move, forward.

It is will. It is the will to remain alert on post. It is the will to remain awake and alert for the forty-eighth hour. It is the will to exit, an armored personnel carrier, a helicopter on or close to the ground or an aircraft in flight in order to close with, and to destroy the enemy. It is the will to take a life rather than to give your own. It is the will to finish what you start, every time. The infantry does not back down. Not once. Not ever.

And, in taking infinite care with what seem like such small, such trivial, details to others. It is important that fighting knives and bayonets are always put away razor sharp, rifles clean, well oiled, magazines stacked and gear put away in the same order, the same place, every time.

That is an infantryman.

If you are assigned a dog; that dog eats before you do—every time. The same is true if you are assigned a fire team or an entire army; they eat before you do—every time because you are an infantryman.

It is easy to belittle the infantry, to mock their parades and their traditions. It is very easy, until the bullets fly, the bombs burst, the blood flows bright red, and you are so very, very, afraid. Just like it is easy to forget that every Marine considers themselves an infantryman first. Just like it is easy to forget the while the United States Army is only about 8% infantry, that nonetheless over 80% of the casualties are infantrymen.

Why then, you ask, would anyone want to be in the infantry?

Think of this; what do the Airborne, the Special Forces, the Rangers, Delta, and the United States Marines all have in common—they are all volunteers—and they are all Infantry. Oh, and do not forget, they are all also, very, very, good at what they do. They are the best. They are deployed first. They do not ever go gentle into that good night, they rage, they fight, they kill and if necessary, they come back to fight and kill again, and again, to obliterate that dark night.

They all have the Spirit of the Bayonet. They are all prepared to go on a battlefield, any battlefield, anywhere, anytime to accomplish their mission and to come home alive because they are all, Infantry.

Hail to the Infantry, Queen of battle, shatterer of lesser souls. Protector of your freedom.

Women in the Military

By john harrison 

Does anyone else see a problem that the two most pressing issues about women serving in the military are: that there must be special rules, and special efforts to prevent rape to protect women in the military, and the idea that women can and should serve in elite infantry combat units whose mission is to close with and destroy the enemy? Am I wrong, or is there a serious disconnect here? 

People in favor of the idea of adding women to elite infantry units often talk about the opportunities currently available for women in the Israeli Army of today. The 2000 Equality amendment to the Military Service law of Israel states “The right of women to serve in any role in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is equal to the right of men.” As of now, about 90% of all roles in the IDF are open to female candidates, and women can be found in about 70% of all positions in the IDF.

Formerly, and like most armies still, Israeli women conscripts only served in the Israeli Women’s Army Corps. After a five-week period of basic training, they could serve as clerks, drivers, welfare workers, nurses, radio operators, flight controllers, ordnance personnel, and course instructors, but not as infantry, much less serve in an elite infantry unit.

However, the supporters of women serving in elite units usually ignore that there are still all sorts of special rules regarding women serving in uniform in Israel. On the other hand, in their favor is that there is also a special IDF infantry battalion composed mostly of women that they can chose to serve in. So far, Israel has not fought a war under the new regime. With luck, they never will—but the expansion of combat positions available to women in the IDF is an incredible social experiment that can be explained only in part by the shortage of military age males in Israel.

Nevertheless, it would defy reality not to acknowledge the risks faced by women in the military and that a woman POW, particularly a woman POW from Israel, but also from any other country, faces. There are also special risks in close combat for a woman that her male counterparts simply do not share. Bowe Robert Bergdahl, an American infantryman, was a POW held the Taliban probably in Northern Pakistan for over 4 years. Because of these additional risks faced only by females in captivity, I do not believe that a woman POW would have survived a similar length of internment. 

We are all aware that in Afghanistan and Iraq American service women in all branches of the military have already faced similar risks of capture for years. However, there is a big difference in the risk of capture confronted by being in a convoy, or at a base camp, or even working as a helicopter pilot, and by being a member of a small combat infantry patrol on the cutting edge in Indian country.

Does anyone really believe that if Sergeant Bergdahl had been a woman that extraordinary efforts would not have been taken to free her at least in part simply because she was a female? If you really do believe that no such extraordinary measures would have been taken, then you do not understand the American male, or the American military. The questions now being raised regarding the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture do not negate this. In spite of these questions, many unsuccessful attempts were made to rescue Sergeant Bergdahl. Would more rescue attempts have been made if Sergeant Bergdahl had been a woman?

The story of Jessica Dawn Lynch is instructive in this regard. During the Battle at Nasiriyahn, March 23, 2003, then Private First Class Lynch was serving as a unit supply specialist with the 507th Maintenance Company when Iraqi forces ambushed her convoy. During the fighting PFC Lynch was knocked unconscious and captured. Her subsequent recovery by U.S. Special Operations Forces eight days later on April 1, 2003 received world wide media coverage and was the first successful rescue of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam and the first ever of a woman POW. The important point here is that it was the first time since Vietnam that a combat raid recovered an American POW even though various enemies have captured many more Americans during that time period and even though many such raids have been mounted to rescue them. What was the difference?

It is not surprising that a large rescue operation was organized to recover an American POW, that happened to be female, only nine days after she was captured. Nor is it surprising to those familiar with the American military that it was the first successful such operation in over thirty years. Simply stated, there was an added urgency because PFC Lynch was female. 

The PFC Lynch rescue operation under US Army operational command involved two battalions of Marines, a Navy SEAL team, US Army Special Forces, US Air Force Pararescue jumpers, US Army Rangers and Delta Force members. The Marines made a violent diversionary attack while the special operators made a night raid on the hospital where PFC Lynch was being held. The successful raid freed PFC Lynch and incidentally recovered the bodies of eight other American soldiers. That is, two Marine battalions totaling at least a thousand men and hundreds of other highly trained service men and probably some women too went into battle with the sole objective of rescuing PFC Lynch.

On the other hand, Bowe Bergdahl was a POW for over four years. A singular difference, one is male and one is female. This difference and the different results cannot be ignored in an honest analysis of the role of women in the military. 

After considerable research, in all of history, the only successful army I am aware of that did use large numbers of women in direct infantry combat roles was the Soviet Union’s Red Army in World War II, but even in that army many combat roles, including all of the elite infantry units, were closed to women.

The role of women in society is quite different in America today and that of the Stalinist Soviet Union in the middle of what they called the Great Patriotic War. Those differences are reflected in their armies as well. About 800,000 women served in the Soviet military during World War II; part of the explanation for that may lie in the estimated 22,000,000 casualties the Soviet Union’s armed forces suffered during that war. And, it should also be noted, that while women in the Soviet Union during World War II served as pilots, snipers, machine gunners, tank crewmembers and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles, they do not serve in these roles in the Russian Army of today. Any honest analysis will not ignore this significant change.

The Serbs used rape as a matter of military policy in their war in Bosnia, and in any event, rape has been an endemic part war since the beginning of time. The inclusion of this very real risk in the analysis is also essential.

Already the US military services have acknowledged that there is a problem with rape occurring among American service members. Clearly, particularly given the nature of such service, assigning women to infantry combat units will increase the opportunity for this problem to continue to grow and fester. Again, I am not condoning this behavior; I am only recognizing that any increase in opportunity usually also increases frequency. 

Aggression is actively encouraged in every elite infantry unit, specifically including extreme physical aggression, and they practice on each other constantly both in training, and in bars on and off base. Anyone who has been in an elite infantry unit knows that fistfights and worse among members of the unit and particularly between such elite units are a part of such service however much such conduct is officially discouraged. Adding alcohol to the mix, and alcohol is always added to the mix, increases both the number of such fights and often their violence as well. Training young soldiers to fight, training them how to be physically aggressive, encouraging that aggression constantly and then expecting them not to use these skills is silly. 

According to the politically correct, rape is an act of aggression, not sex. If it is true that rape is act of aggression, then one must reasonably expect that rape, as an act of physical aggression, to increase as a logical result of including women in elite units that also by definition and fact are already highly aggressive physically. I am not condoning such conduct; I am merely applying the definition provided by many of those proposing the inclusion of women into such elite units to the training and environment that such women will be exposed to along with the men in the units.

In the ethos of an elite infantry unit, soldiers that cannot protect themself from a physical attack ought not to be in the unit. They are a danger to themselves and to every soldier in the unit. This is the reality of an elite unit. Physical aggression is encouraged because it is deemed essential for success on the battlefield not for reasons of testosterone.

So, what does all of this mean? Among other things, it at least means that if the people proposing the inclusion of women into elite infantry units are correct that rape is an act of aggression rather than sex, and if women are added to such units, then rape in the military will either increase, or that the performance of such elite units will be degraded on purpose because the importance of extreme aggression, particularly of extreme physical aggression, will necessarily be de-emphasized for the safety of the women members of the elite unit. A third possibility is that, while attempted rape will increase, these women will be successful in defending themselves and therefore, while rape will not increase, the actual net result for the elite unit will be the same. Any of these results would diminish the effectiveness of any elite unit that experienced them.

Why? Why jeopardize the so far successful inclusion of women into the military by placing them in positions where their success, even the supporters of such inclusion say, will only come at the cost of reduced effectiveness assuming that the proponents of such inclusion are correct about the actual cause of rape? Why jeopardize very necessary, very successful, elite units in the service of ideology rather than excellence? Why ignore reality?

 

 

 

If you like this article you may also like these articles: “Cone of Violence” (https://johneharrison.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/cone-of-violence/),

or My Mother’s Machinegun.

(https://johneharrison.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/my-mothers-machine-gun/)

 

 

Tet ’68–Battle Won, Victory Lost

 TET ’68–Battle Won, Victory Lost

by: john harrison

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet '68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.

Although the majority of our training was for combat patrols in the jungle, the majority of the fighting we actually did during Tet ’68 was street fighting in the cities and towns of Vietnam.  This is B/3/506th in Phan Thiet during the battle. Photo: Jerry Berry PIO 3/506th.

The largest battle of the Vietnam War, Tet ’68, was also among the two or three biggest infantry battles that American armed forces have ever fought. In spite of all the bad press, we clearly won that battle. Tet ’68 was a bigger battle and a bigger victory in pure military terms even than the justly famous Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

While these numbers are subject to some dispute, it appears that there were about 500,000 Americans actively involved in both Tet ’68 and in the Battle of the Bulge.  During Tet ’68 there were about one million total allied soldiers involved and they suffered a total of about 75,000 casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA).  At the Bulge there were about 720,000 total allied soldiers involved and they suffered about 90,000 casualties.  The German casualties during the Battle of the Bulge have been estimated at 67,000 to 100,000.  The corresponding estimates for Tet ’68 are that the VC/NVA casualties totaled at least 115,000 dead, wounded and missing and more likely as many as 150,000.❋  Most of the VC/NVA casualties were dead.

The differences were that in Vietnam during Tet, the Army, Marines and allies were engaged in almost continuous combat throughout the country for a much longer period of time, and Khe Sahn was a true killing field, leaving stacks of NVA dead.

In addition, while in Bastogne itself at the Battle of the Bulge there not was a rear area, for the majority of units fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, there was a rear area,  Even during the height of the battle, there were always American troops that were not directly engaged with the enemy surrounding Bastogne.  They were behind other troops in support, or reserve, or were on their way to the front and thus were not yet actively engaged by the enemy.

However, like Bastogne itself, there was no “behind” anywhere in Vietnam during Tet ’68.  For example, a battalion of Vietnamese paras in transit at Tan Son Nhut airport were called in to repel an attack on the airport itself before they could leave.  The only reserve during Tet ’68 was the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fayetteville, N. C., which was all in the air within hours after the battles started, and engaged on the ground within hours after they landed in Vietnam.

Nevertheless, the issue as they say in the history books was never in doubt during Tet ‘68. Even while the VC/NVA were attacking, allied counter attacks were meeting them, sometimes before they even made it to their lines of departure. It was a fight, a big, hard, ugly at times, fight, but it was never in doubt who would win that fight.

Literally the NVA and particularly the VC never recovered from that battle. Many of the VC that had fought for years were now dead, and that meant that even the Main Force NVA units now blundered about the county because they no longer had knowledgeable local VC guides.

While the Vietnam War is still portrayed as an insurgency, a guerrilla war, the Battle of Tet ’68 was a straight up, conventional, mostly infantry, slugfest. Since, Tet ’68 does not fit the storyline that was told to America at the time and since, i.e., that we lost a guerrilla war to General Vo Nuguen Giap and those fellows in black pajamas, other than dwelling on the brutality of war in cities full of civilians, the actual Allied military victory during Tet ’68 has been almost completely ignored, both in 1968 and since then. Other than the picture of General Loan executing an NVA franc-tireur on a street in Saigon with his revolver, or the one of the great seal of the United States of America lying broken on the embassy grounds, or the street fighting in Hue, the real battles of Tet ’68 and their outcome still have been largely discounted by historians even today.

Moreover, it was not VC guerrillas that ultimately defeated the South Vietnamese government over two years after all of the American troops had left Vietnam. After Tet ’68 the VC were mostly broken or dead laying on a street in Phan Thiet or Hue or Saigon. It was not the NVA units that had been infiltrated in country that did it either. They were lost in the jungle, and literally dared not come out of the jungle even assuming they could find their way, or most likely, they were hiding in sanctuaries in Cambodia or Laos.

Contrary to what most people believe, what finally toppled South Vietnam was a traditional, full-scale, tank-led, conventional, combined-arms invasion from North Vietnam essentially using its entire million man army. Ultimately, this army went right down Route 1, the “street without joy” in Bernard Fall’s felicitous phrase, all the way to Saigon in 1975.

In addition to the wide spread ignorance about the Battle of Tet ’68 it has always been very curious to me that for a while much was made of the fact that in Vietnam the army required a 12 month tour, the Marines required a 13 month tour, but WW II service was for the duration. Few have tried to find out why this was so. Moreover, most Americans are unaware that the war in Europe was over about 11 months after the landings in Normandy at D-Day. During that 11-month period every American division was pulled out of the line for a time and “rested” in a secure area.

The Army had long ago determined that 12 months of combat was about all a sane person could really take and remain sane. Therefore, it limited the tours in Vietnam to 12 months and it used rotation of units to achieve the same end, for the same reason in Europe during World War II. According to some reports, and while some served for a longer period, because of constant rotations of units, the average time in combat for an infantryman in the Pacific for example during World War II was about 40 days. On the other hand, mostly because of the mobility provided by thousands of helicopters, the average time in combat for an infantryman in Vietnam was about 240 days during his year of service.

Personally, I am not sure which is more stressful, combat or the anticipation of combat. You feel it on the way in to combat, but once the shooting starts you are too busy to notice. However, I doubt that being too busy to notice is a real protection from stress. When it was over I would always be unbelievably tired, others were euphoric, either way and every way in between it was a reaction to stress, experienced but not yet fully felt.

Two statistics will serve to bring this issue into focus: the 101st Airborne Division suffered almost twice as many casualties in the Vietnam War as it did in World War II, and the United States Marine Corps also suffered more casualties in Vietnam than it did in all of World War II. In the case of the 101st Airborne Division, this was in spite of the fact that only about one-third of the Division, the First Brigade, was deployed in Vietnam from July 29, 1965 until the rest of the division came over at the end of 1967. This was a hard fought, a really big war.

This information is readily available, but I have not seen it in the mass media, only sometimes the implied slur that the infantry in Vietnam had it easier because they only served for a year while in World War II they served for the duration. Like the idea that the Vietnam War was fought mainly by draftees while World War II was supposedly fought mainly by volunteers, it is not only wrong, the exact opposite is true. Vietnam was a big, violent, long war fought mainly, about 66%, by volunteers. While World War II was a big violent, fairly short war, at least for America, fought mainly, again about 66%, by draftees.

And, later when the Wall in Berlin fell, and the Cold War was won very few paused to remember as hearty congratulations were passed around that it had been a hot war for a while in Korea, and that it was hotter still, and for much longer in Vietnam.

Also generally unknown, both the Soviet Union (3,000) and China (320,000) had troops stationed in North Vietnam during the war, as did North Korea and Cuba. In addition to these troops, all during the Vietnam War the Soviet Union required its satellites to provide for free much of the war material for North Vietnam’s war effort. Other than some food and a lot of soldiers, there was almost nothing produced in North Vietnam that was actually used in the war by North Vietnam.

There were guns and ammunition from the justly famous Skoda Arms Works in Czechoslovakia. There were field glasses from East Germany’s Steiner and ships from Gdansk, Poland to carry it all to Haiphong, North Vietnam or to Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and then into South Vietnam.

Anyone that has studied economics knows that this support of North Vietnam’s war effort was highly inflationary for the captive nations of eastern Europe. While Moscow may have thought that it was making its “allies” carry some of the economic burden of helping North Vietnam, it was actually helping create the economic conditions in those satellite countries that ultimately led to the downfall of communism.

Given this, it should be no surprise that the beginning of the end for communism started among the shipyard workers of Gdansk, Poland. These workers had made a great deal of money from the Vietnam War that they could not spend in the state controlled economy of communist Poland.

Contrary to general belief, revolutions usually happen when things are getting better, but the improvements are not progressing fast enough for a lot of people. These were the conditions in the captive nations of Eastern Europe when the rumblings of change started, and the result was as predictable in coming as it was unpredictable and surprising that it would succeed essentially without violence.

I think, because we can now see the Cold War as an immense, sustained act of American moral courage and leadership that we should also be able to see that the bloody sacrifices in Vietnam, and Korea were a significant part of that moral leadership and sacrifice. Those two brutal conflicts played a substantial role in the containment policy’s ultimate success in the Cold War.

However as yet, we do not recognize the very real contributions made by American fighting men in these wars. America still does not generally recognize even the valor of those that fought so well for so long in Vietnam, just as it ignores that their significant contribution in this hot war led in part to the successful, ultimately peaceful, end of the Cold War.

While Vietnam may not be our best example of Americans at war in the sense that many of the policies and strategies pursued over the 8 years of the conflict were seriously flawed, e.g. the claiming of progress in war on the basis of “body counts” is squalid, stupid and worse, often misleading, or that allowing the murder of Diem and his brother demeaned the brave soldiers that were fighting the war at the same time it made their job more difficult. There are many other bad examples from the Vietnam War, including the tragedy at My Lai.

Unfortunately, it is these bad examples that received most of the attention then. Therefore, these bad examples often continue to receive most of the attention from historians even today because this is what they see in their research of the war years. Finally as historians continue to dig deeper, this is beginning to change.

The use of “body counts” in an insurgency situation in modern times began with the British in Malaysia. Malaysia is one of the relatively few historical situations in post WWII times in which a major insurgency, using guerrilla tactics which was extensively supported and supplied by an outside force was nonetheless defeated.

The components of success were that the communists in Malaysia were generally limited to the ethnic Chinese minority living in Malaysia and most important the British and Malaysians were able through the use of superb intelligence work to identify the insurgents. Much of this intelligence work was conducted by Metropolitan Police Forces on loan from London and Hong Kong, who not only found out how many communist insurgents there were in Malaysia, but also in many cases they knew who they were.

A large part of the success in Malaysia came from treating the problem as a police/political problem as much as possible. This limited the contact between the civilians and soldiers to only those times where it was absolutely necessary and thus forestalled the unfortunate effect of aggressive, often violent, anti-terrorist military operations which tend to generate more new terrorists than they eliminate. Thus, the use of body count in Malaysia indicated a real diminution in the number of terrorists and was therefore a meaningful number.

When the use of body counts as an indicia of progress was applied to Vietnam such numbers were meaningless, or worse, misleading. Unlike the British in Malaysia who could identify their enemy, except for the NVA who generally fought in uniform, and during Tet ’68 as well as other times when the Viet Cong were caught with their weapons, we were often not absolutely sure that the dead body reported after a firefight was that of an insurgent.  We were only certain that it was dead.

The British tried very hard to identify who it was that they had killed in Malaysia.  Only if they had reliable information that the body was that of an active terrorist did the British add it to their body count in Malaysia.

Unfortunately where the insurgency is constantly fed new fighters from abroad, like in Vietnam from North Vietnam and today in Iraq and Afghanistan from radical Islamic groups mostly from Saudi Arabia and Iran, an increase in the body count would not necessarily mean that you are winning, rather it could mean that the other side has the people and the will to engage in an increasing amount of direct, violent action. This is simply not a good sign, it is entirely the opposite. But few noticed this reality in the Vietnam War.  They just counted the bodies.

Worse, historians that should know better often still repeat the lie that these body counts in Vietnam were inflated. They continue to repeat this base canard even though the North Vietnamese admitted years ago to the essential accuracy of the American body count figures; that is, North Vietnam officially stated that about one million, one hundred thousand VC/NVA were killed during the war. This North Vietnamese figure actually exceeds by a little the numbers reported by MACV during the war. The essential accuracy of the MACV and North Vietnamese casualty figures have also been confirmed by objective, academic, research. (See: Rummel, R. J. “Statistics of Vietnamese Democide”)

Thus, the overall casualty statistics for the VC/NVA were originally reported by the military, they were later officially confirmed by government of Vietnam after the war, and later by independent scholarly research. Against this, some still say that they “disbelieve” the total casualties reported, but they have no absolutely objective basis for that disbelief other than some anecdotal stories reported by the media at the time. Of course, some still disbelieve that the earth is round, and using similar unscientific methods some still deny global warming.

Similarly, most histories of the Vietnam War, mainly the ones written soon after the war, do not recognize, in fact they simply ignore the many American successes in that war, in particular they ignore the tremendous feat of arms that was the American, allied nations and South Vietnamese response to the Tet ‘68 Offensive. While almost all of the more recent Vietnam War histories now pay at least lip service to the idea that Tet ’68 was a “tactical win” for the Allied forces, there is always a “but” and then a much longer reference to later political changes in America which they attribute to the aftermath of Tet ’68.

However, in 1968 there was no Dien Bien Phu at Khe Sahn. In spite of news reports to the contrary, the VC sappers never got into the American Embassy itself in Saigon, only into the embassy compound where they were all captured or killed early that same morning. Only in Hue, Saigon and Phan Thiet did the first waves of the Tet battles last for more that a few days. Moreover, everywhere in Vietnam there were literally piles of enemy dead and stacks of captured enemy weapons that told the real story of the outcome of the Tet ’68 offensive.

The battle of Tet ’68 was a textbook example of American courage, American mobility and the use of firepower and maneuver to absolutely dominate a battlefield that stretched up and down the entire country of South Vietnam. In a word it was: victory. It was a classic military battle of annihilation, a victory of truly historic proportions. Unfortunately it is also a victory that is still almost unknown to the American public.

Although some were wiped out, I do not believe that even a squad of Americans, much less a larger unit, ever surrendered during the Vietnam War, even during Tet ’68 when the communist attacks were at their fiercest. There is no question that during Tet ’68 that the VC/NVA attacks had some local successes, particularly at Hue and in Cholon in Saigon. However, the Americans fought, then they died or they retreated still fighting, and then they counter-attacked.

It is important to remember that while during the Battle of the Bulge some 23,000 Americans were captured by the Germans or were declared missing after the battle, in Vietnam in the entire year of 1968 including the Tet offensive, there were only a total 158 Americans declared to be captured or missing in action. No American nor significant South Vietnamese Army unit surrendered during the Tet ’68 Offensive. They fought. They fought well and ultimately, they won that battle.

The numbers when taken together show the very similar totality of the two victories in stark detail, but only one is thought of today as an American victory—Why?

 

Description                                                      Battle of the Bulge                Tet ‘68

Total US strength 541,000 540,000
Total US KIA 19,000 7040
Total US WIA 62,500 31,204
Total US captured, missing 23,500 158
Total German-VC/NVA strength 449,000 500,000
Total German-VC/NVA casualties 67,459-125,000 110,000-150,000
Total NVA/VC captured, missing (included above) 5,070

 

Most of the South Vietnamese Army was a draftee army. Literally, it was a cross section of the sons of the people of South Vietnam.  While it often suffered from bad leadership and high desertion rates, during Tet ’68 the South Vietnamese Army fought and they often fought hard for their country, particularly their elite Ranger, Marine and Airborne battalions and brigades.  Contrary to the expectations of the North Vietnamese Politburo not a single ARVN unit defected to the enemy during Tet ’68. These startling facts are routinely ignored by many histories of the war.

The truth, that the Communists attacks during Tet ’68 were bloodily, speedily, crushed, still has not been generally acknowledged by Western historians of the war. Most Americans still do not know the extent of the American, Allied, Tet ’68 victory.  Unfortunately, most Americans probably still do not even know that it was our victory, not theirs.

The picture, you may remember it as well, that stands out in my mind from Tet ’68 is the one of an MP, probably named Paul Healy, throwing a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol up to Col. George Jacobson, USA, Ret., an Embassy officer, who was hanging out a window at his house in the US Embassy compound so that Jacobson could turn around and use it to kill the VC/NVA that was banging away at his bedroom door. This was the last VC/NVA that had made it into the embassy compound that morning.  All of the other VC/NVA that had made it into the Embassy grounds in Saigon were dead or captured the very same morning that they blew their way through the Embassy compound’s walls. It took longer in Cholon, Hue, and Phan Thiet to root them out, but the outcome was the same.

The VC/NVA took their best shot during what they called the “Tet Offensive“, and they lost miserably. They literally achieved none of their military objectives. While after the battle the NVA rapidly infiltrated replacements for their horrific losses during Tet ’68, many with “Born in the North, To Die in the South” written on the helmets, the VC simply never recovered from their extraordinarily bloody defeat during Tet ’68.  The VC were never able to replace their appalling losses from the battles up and down Vietnam, and all of their units, including even their elite Main Force VC units, soon contained far more NVA than Southerners.

As a result of the severe battle losses among both the VC and NVA units General Giap even took the extraordinary step to reassure the surviving VC/NVA units that these types of stand-up, slugfest battles with the deadly Americans would never be attempted again. Based on the results of the battle General Giap thought that this was necessary to try to restore his soldiers’ morale which had truly been shattered by American and allied steel during Tet ’68.

However, in spite of all the news coverage it received, when I returned from Vietnam in the fall of 1968 after all of the battles of Tet were over, and there had been ample time to judge their results, I was not asked once about our great victory in the Battle of Tet ’68, but I remember being repeatedly asked, how many people I had killed. My answer never varied:

“More of them than they did of me.”

Read the numbers. We really kicked their ass. You would have thought that someone would have noticed; that someone would have cared.


❋ For example the Tactical Department, General Staff, NVA, reference: No. 124/Tgi, document No.1103, dated February 14, 1969 reported a total of 123,394 casualties from stages 1 and 2 of the Tet ’68 Offensive. There were three stages.