Military Memories

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A lot can happen in 8 years, but not everything is noteworthy. Here's a few stories, but for more, please see Military Memories II.

With the Navy and the Marines

During my service with the 2nd Bn 39th Infantry, my battalion was transported to Camp Pendleton, California, a US Marine Corps base, for amphibious training (I should note that this was my second time, as my infantry company had been there once already for a couple of weeks).

Aboard the USS Paul Revere

We boarded the USS Paul Revere (APA-248) for the voyage south from the Puget Sound Naval Base at Keyport, Washington. As this was my first time aboard a US Navy ship under way, I greatly enjoyed the trip! Except for the sea-sickness. While I did not end up "feeding the fishes" (via vomiting), I spent much of the voyage feeling quite queasy. My company, C Company, was billeted in the forward part of the ship in the bow, apparently at or below the water-line. Naturally, being at the bow meant that we were constantly going up and down as the ship ploughed through the water. And it was cold - no insulation between the water and the compartment!

My favorite part of the journey was near the beginning, when I decided to see if I could visit the ship's bridge. It was night-time, and we were heading out of the Puget Sound via the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I climbed the stairs that led up to the starboard lookout's station and chatted with the sailor on duty there for a time. When I asked him if he thought I might be allowed to go into the bridge, he said that technically I would need permission, but since it was dark inside there, if I was very quiet and stayed out of the way, I might get away with it. So I entered the bridge and stood in the corner for some time, just watching and listening to the quiet activity of those who were supposed to be there. There was a radar console near an unoccupied station chair, and once I stepped forward to view it more closely, making sure I kept my hands to myself, then returning to the corner. At some time after I had looked at the radar console, the ship's captain came onto the bridge (the officer in charge acknowledging this by calling out "Captain on deck!" to which he immediately responded "As you were!"). The captain sat down on the station chair next to the radar console, and from time to time he fiddled with the controls of the radar display to show different views. After probably an hour standing there watching all this, I left and went back down to our berthing area.

Camp Pendleton

The training at Camp Pendleton included using the various weapons ranges at the camp, learning what kind of missions the US Marines were supposed to perform, and so on. The culmination of all this was an actual amphibious landing made by the battalion! Unfortunately, I did not participate in this, having been assigned to drive a jeep for the rear-echelon elements. The reason for this was because I was my platoon leader's driver/RTO at the time, and the landing did not include my weapons platoon's vehicles. So I missed out on that, as they tasked me to drive our jeep around on mere errands! The amphibious landing was conducted out of the US Navy's USS Ogden (LPD-5). One interesting event occurring during the landing was the loss of one my platoon's mortar tubes, which went into the sea while being transferred to a landing craft for the exercise. Apparently the sailors attaching it to the rope for lowering failed to securely tie it to the tube, and it went into the water. A subsequent search by naval divers failed to recover it.

When the training at Camp Pendleton was concluded, the USS Ogden carried us back to Washington state. This ship was quite amazing to me, and I really liked the "cruise" from Southern California to Washington. Among other things, the food was much superior to that on board the Paul Revere, and the Ogden was much more stable while underway. I did not suffer any queasiness during the trip back. This was some time during 1978, I believe. Much later, on 21 February 2007, the Ogden came to the end of its service life and was decommissioned. In 2014 it performed its last service by being used for target practice during RIMPAC. It was sunk in a SINKEX, an interesting term meaning "sinking exercise", by the Republic of (South) Korea Navy submarine Lee Sun Sin (SS-68) and the Royal Norwegian Navy ship HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen (F310). The Lee Sun Sin put a Harpoon missile into her, followed by the Nansen with a Naval Strike Missile. This was recorded and is available for viewing on YouTube, showing the Ogden taking its final port-call, in Davy Jones' Locker.

First Brigade Frolics

While serving with the 9th Infantry Division, as an infantryman my first assignment was with the 2nd Battalion 39th INF, which was part of the Ninth Infantry Division's First Brigade. We didn't normally train together as a Brigade except once that I remember, when we all three assigned battalions gathered in a particular training area on Fort Lewis. I don't remember what we were supposed to be doing, notionally, but the one thing we seemed to be doing was cluttering up the landscape! A brigade of three straight-leg infantry battalions means a lot of men and even without armored vehicles, a lot of vehicles. It was very crowded with troops. One of my company's jeeps managed to get stuck in the drainage ditch running alongside the road and we couldn't get it out. It took hours for the motor pool to get the battalion's vehicle recovery truck over to us to drag it out. It was almost laying on its side, so it was a bitch getting it out. If we had had some decent ropes we might have managed it, but ropes weren't part of the T.O.& E!

We had two brigade commanders during my time in the brigade, and both of them were excellent officers. One even achieved a good deal of fame.

Under Bernard Loeffke

Colonel Bernard "Burn" Loeffke (pronounced "Lef - key") was my first brigade commander. Because the First Brigade was designed to be the 9th Division's "First to Fight" in the event we were ever deployed, COL Loeffke made it our goal to be particularly highly trained for the purpose. We were the division's Recondo Brigade, Recondo being an American term combining the words RECONnaissance and commanDO. See Recondo at Wikipedia.

One particular event that happened under COL Loeffke's command was when some Warsaw Pact officers came for a visit. Interesting, since the Warsaw Pact was one of the potential foes we trained to fight! Because COL Loeffke spoke fluent Russian, he had the pleasure of showing these men around. At least one of them was a Soviet (i.e. Russian) general. I seem to recall that the Pact officers included other nationalities, but I don't know which ones. My involvement in their visit was to be part of a "dog and pony" show on one particular day -- possibly the finale. Because my part came at the end and I wasn't there for the entire thing, I rely upon my memory of what my friend SP4 (later CSM) Garrett Savard's described to me, as he was in the bleacher stands with other members of our battalion staff.

It was a combat demonstration that took place at the Brigade's aviation area in the trees around Gray Army Airfield (the Brigade was assigned an OH-57 helicopter that they kept there). Bleachers for the spectators had been set up on the other side of the taxiway from the maintenance shed, and the demonstration was an attack on the maintenance building. First thing to happen was artillery simulators (really BIG firecrackers) going off to simulate incoming artillery preparation. This was followed up by a simulated strafing run by a pair of AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters -- I saw part of that, since they flew by in front of my battalion-strength formation where we stood on one of the main taxiways (and out of sight of the people in the bleachers). After this a UH-1 Huey helicopter flew up, hovered above the trees, and a squad of infantrymen rappelled out the helicopter. These proceeded to conduct an assault on the building, after which a "smoke pot" was lit to obscure the taxiway leading to the airstrip. Actually, the smoke might have been lit already, making the airmobile assault more dramatic. By this point, our battalion formation of about 500 men had already been jogging in formation, for a "jog by" of the bleachers! The smoke was to obscure our approach, and to make our appearance dramatic. Garrett later told me that it had been very effective. By luck, the wind was blowing just right that day.

We rounded the corner and jogged up the taxiway towards the bleacher area, and as we rounded the corner we started grunting each time our left feet hit ground. We were all dressed in combat utilities, but the only equipment we carried were our M16 rifles held at "port arms" with our helmets on, gas masks on our faces, and each one of us had slung a LAW (Light Anti-Tank weapon) on our backs. As we passed the bleachers (the "reviewing stand"), our formation leader commanded "Eyes RIGHT!" as he saluted the dignitaries, and everyone in the formation performed "eyes right", looking at the dignitaries. And there was the Soviet General, standing there with Colonel Loeffke, returning the salute with the biggest grin imaginable on his face! He obviously enjoyed the show!

Two things he didn't know, and these were: the LAWs on our backs were not "live", but had already been fired and were empty; and to ease our jogging we had removed the filters from our gas masks! They were much easier to run in that way, as the filters would have impeded our breathing.

In any case, it was some fun!

Under Norman Schwartzkopf

Upon the completion of Colonel Loeffke's tour with the 1st Brigade, our new brigade commander was a man who later became quite famous.

Colonel Norman Schwartzkopf, Jr (Yes, THAT Norman Schwartzkopf!) was my next brigade commander. We knew he had two nicknames, one being "Bear" (the one he preferred) and the other being "Stormin' Norman". This other nickname was a reputation he had for getting shouty with officers who displeased him. In connection with the "Stormin'" I recall an occasion when the brigade was conducting a "command post exercise" or CPX. This, by the way, is an exercise where the bulk of the men of a unit do not take part in person, but the various headquarters elements go out to the field and set up as if they were on an operation, and pretend to issue orders in response to the commands coming down from higher headquarters. The purpose is to test communications and orgnanizational protocols. At the time I was assigned as a vehicle driver for our battalion's headquarters, so there I was being a gopher at the battalion command post. It so happened that my company commander was at the battalion command post (CP) for some reason, when we got the word that COL Schwartzkopf was inbound to our CP. When this officer heard this, he made haste to get the heck away. He clearly did not want to experience any Stormin'! As it happened, the colonel arrived, got a briefing from the battalion commander, and without much commentary went on his way to his next victim.

COL Schwartzkopf of course continued the tradition of our brigade being the Recondo Brigade, and introduced a weekly five-mile brigade run, which was done on Fridays. This meant that all units part of the brigade lined up down the road facing brigade headquarters, and then began jogging in cadence around the area, through the trees, and finally the last mile was run on the road leading to the airfield, and then onto the air strip itself. It was one of those things that we kind of didn't look forward to, but kind of did. Running five miles was not a problem, but running behind other units who might have slowed down required us to run in place until there was some distance between us got to be a real pain.

Another thing Schwartzkopf introduced was the "Recondo Pitstop". This was a mess hall that he had put together in our battalion area -- I think he took over our Combat Support Company's auditorium for this. It was only open in the evenings, but everyone on post who wanted to eat there could come do so, and especially invited were troops who were out on training maneuvers till late at night and whose mess halls might have closed before they came in -- although sometimes those troops came back to the "cantonment area" in jeeps and other vehicles while still out training (unless they were doing night training anyway). You'd have guys all done up in camouflage and carrying weapons enjoying themselves with a good meal. COL Schwartzkopf made sure that the food they served there was top-notch, and one thing that I liked was that you could get custom sandwiches made, such as the Reuben, which is one of my favorites.