Dear Younger Sam Jr.,
It’s time, younger self, to have a conversation about the influences that shape a combat veteran.
Younger Self: How can I become a good officer like dad?
Self: Apply the fundamentals of soldiering, like integrity and always do the right thing. Trust combat instincts, and take care of soldiers like Major Dad said, who fought and survived the battle of Anzio during WWII, while never forgetting mom’s gentle sense of humanity. Enlist and work your way up through the ranks, so you truly understand soldiers.
Younger Self: I enlisted for three years in the regular Army and trained as special forces (SF), a Green Beret soldier working my way up to staff sergeant. What next?
Self: Good, now attend Infantry Officers Candidate School (OCS) and apply for active duty. When you deploy to Vietnam as an SF officer, remember the fundamentals you learned from your military family.
Younger Self: Deployed to an SF camp at Tong Le Chon in Vietnam during 1967 where we rehearsed battle drill for months. Later I took over command of our A Team and helped win a big battle against two North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiments two thousand soldiers strong. Our newly assigned captain had lost it, so I took over. Was asked by our B Team commander what happened, so I told him the truth. He swept the incident under the rug. I was reassigned to another A Team, but, before leaving, submitted every deserving team member for a valor award. I was recommended for a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) that was downgraded to a Bronze Star for Valor. Remembered that Dad said always do the right thing, then you can live with yourself. After several sleepless nights and the onset of battle fatigue, replacement soldiers arrived.
It was refreshing to enjoy watching children run down the aircraft ramp smiling and wanting to play — unaware of the carnage that had taken place. It reminded me of Mom’s sense of humanity.
Self: Good. Did you apply lessons learned at next assignment?
Younger Self: Yes. Commanded A Team on Nui Ba Dinh, the Black Virgin Mountain in Tay Ninh Provence, Vietnam, conducting battle drill daily to defend camp and dependents and ran many successful operations against the NVA. Later, I was assigned as a staff officer on a B Team in Yay Ninh City.
During the “TET” new year offensive, my survival instincts kicked in. I yanked our new-to-country stoic colonel down into a defensive trench during the din of battle. Muddied up, he glared at me just as a mortar round exploded where he had been standing. The grimace on his face turned from utter surprise to grateful. We never talked about it again.
Self: How did you react to disingenuous leadership?
Younger Self: Noted several incidents where officers were awarded medals they did not deserve. My response was to write up 10 awards for those who deserved them to offset the ones not deserved.
Ironically, upon return from Vietnam, I was directed to court martial a frustrated awards and decorations officer who offset the phony awards he was forced to write by awarding himself a DSC and Silver Star. Noted that — no good deed goes unpunished.
Self: In summary, it all boils down to listening to your parents from the greatest generation who have been there; emulating effective military leaders; learning from your mistakes; keeping your head down during firefights.
— Sam Jr.