Monday, November 24, 2008

The Trip To Oxford, MS-1965

It was March 1965. The 720th MP Battalion was in the field at Fort Hood, TX. We were undergoing routine field training. One thing about the military police, when they go to the field for training, they end up doing their normal police duties too. The mission was going along quite well. We were securing convoys, manning traffic control points, providing security for important sites, and generally trying to keep from being miserable. Late in the day, early evening if my memory serves me right, we were ordered back to garrison to prepare for an early morning deployment. We were given a couple of hours to get whatever gear we needed from our homes, but we could not tell our families where we were going.

We had all been keeping up with the "outside world". It was the time of civil rights movement and many important things were happening. This was the time when James Meredith was enrolled at the University of Mississippi. Our job would be to provide personal security for him during his tenure there.

The battalion packed up and went to Killeen AFB to board military transports for the flight to Memphis. It is amazing how you can make bed out of packing crates in a 1/4 ton trailer. Upon landing at Memphis we received a briefing concerning our assignments. My platoon was going to be split up to establish road blocks at the major routes in and out of Oxford, Mississippi.

We boarded helicopters to be transported to our duty sites. We were all equipped with the appropriate "combat" gear for the time. We were issued the tear gas grenades that looked like baseballs. It was a common practice to hang them on our web gear by their pin rings. The reason being, that if you needed to deploy them in a hurry, you just had to yank on the grenade and it would come free of the pin. There is not much danger when doing this as long as the handle is held firmly. As soon as the handle is released the grenade will blow tear gas all over hell and back, or at least in a relatively large radius. And, it doesn't pay to be down wind of one without a gas mask.

I traveled with one of the squads that was led by an "old timer". He was a good NCO, and could be very funny. While in flight Sarge was trying to get comfortable and was adjusting his gear when his rifle sling pushed against one of his tear gas grenades separating it from its pin. He did not have the grenade in his hand and it came loose from the pin. All of the MPs on board had gas masks. The flight crew did not. A potentially dangerous situation. However, the helicopter banked the proper direction and the grenade rolled harmlessly out of the door.

We made it to our duty post without further incident. The Sarge and I did have a little discussion about this. He realized that we were all very fortunate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How I learned to like Scallops

The year was 1961 it was my first duty assignment as a Second Lieutenant--Company B, 720th MP Battalion, Fort Hood, TX. As a company officer I had many additional duties to supplement my primary duty as Platoon Leader. One of my favorite duties was that of Mess Officer. It was through this duty that I learned to enjoy scallops again. As a kid I got sick one time from eating them so I swore off of them for the rest of my life.

Well, fate has a unique way of getting your attention. This time it was very pleasant. While walking through the company area near noon I could not help but notice the most enticing aroma emanating from the mess hall. Any conscientious leader has to investigate everything that is happening within the olfactory range as well as within sight and hearing. Realizing my duties and responsibilities I forged ahead and entered the mess hall. Upon asking the Mess Sergeant what was the cause of that most marvelous aroma permeating the company area, I was informed that the luncheon special was deep-fried scallops.

Arrgh! I hate them. I cannot abide them. They make me sick. Yuck!!

I then approached the steam table where the first scallops out of the deep-fryer were waiting to be served. They looked as good as they smelled. Now I have a real dilemma. I don't like scallops, but I have a duty to the troops to test them to insure they are edible. After all we don't want the troops coming down with an illness. Scallops can do that you know.

You guessed it, I screwed up my courage. (It only took a couple of twists of the screw driver.) I asked the Mess Sergeant if I might try one. He agreed to get me one. We did have a breakdown in communication. I meant one scallop, he meant one bowl. I tried that "one" and have been eating them ever since. Thanks, Sarge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Allegro Non troppo

allegro non troppo -(L) fast, but not too fast

That Latin phrase is usually an aside reserved for a stage performer and not generally descriptive of one's military career. As an after thought, that sentence I should redress; to be fair, my service time was only a tour of duty, hardly worthy of being referred to as a career.

I am humbled to contribute to this blog as a mere enlisted man who simply wished to fulfill his military obligation and to return to civilian life as fast as possible. Jack, the creator of this blog, dedicated a fair portion of his life to a military career, I, I gave only a sliver.

Don't get me wrong, I did not resent the military or my time serving my country. Back then, going into the service was practically a rite of passage. Of course, there was also ... the draft!

Now, while those who did had their reasons, I felt that I could never have lowered myself to actively or defiantly avoid my obligation. It never crossed my mind to declare myself a conscientious objector, to burn my draft card or to flee to Canada; I would have never been able to sleep knowing I would have been acting in cowardice.

They didn't call that era "the turbulent sixties" for nothing. The fly in the ointment was our country's military involvement in Vietnam, a small country in Southeast Asia that most of us would have been unable to find on a map. The prevailing sentiments were that we didn't belong over there. This was evidenced by the violent protests and it was the theme of our music's lyrics. For What It's Worth by the Buffalo Springfield was adopted as the anthem of protest.

February 15, 1968, on my 18th birthday I received that dreaded envelope from Uncle Sam. You know the one, it begins with "Greetings." I had 30 days before I was to report to the nearest Army Recruiting office. On the 25th day I walked into the nearest Navy Recruiting office and enlisted for 4 years. I was of the mindset that four years in the Navy would be a lot healthier than to accept being drafted into the Army for two years.

I never saw action. Even though I was a half a world away from any conflicts while I was serving my country, I was no less out there doing my part to protect my country.

The accounts that I will post here will be mostly anecdotal: some funny, some sad and some dramatic. The title I used? At times my time in the service seemed to linger, but in the end those four years seemed to pass rather quickly. There were no regrets.

Allegro non troppo.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vietnamese IED

Posted for R. O.

During the summer of 1968, I was a member of a Mobile Advisory Team assigned to Thoung Duc District in Quang Nam Province, I Corps RVN.
We were responsible for working with the Regional Force and Popular Force units in the district as part of the effort to “Vietnamize” the war. While the district was geographically large the population was small and the was only one RF company and 10 PF platoons. All units lived in the only town in the district of the same name. The most interesting feature of the town was a large European style Catholic church in the middle of the ville.

The other interesting demographic was that the Catholics there were nearly all North Vietnamese, either those who had fled the north in 1954 or their descendants.
The total US advisor population was a small district team of three officers and two enlisted plus the MAT (two officers and three NCOs).

The town was isolated from friendly territory and the only way in or out for any one was by helicopter or Caribou. We did have another semi-friendly adjacent element in the area, as the An Duc SF camp adjoined the district compound on one side. The other major force in the area was the 2nd NVA division which occupied most of the district to our west to the Laos border.

Part of the district team was the captain responsible or the Phoenix program. He had a pot of money to do various things and one of those things was to pay the locals of weapons/ammuntion turned, no questions asked. At times we would accumulate a small cache of B40 rockets, 82mm mortar rounds and NVA hand grenades and other miscellaneous stuff before the District Senior Advisor (also a CPT) would get pissed and make the Phoenix CPT haul the stuff up to the SF demo pit and blow it up.
The town and the district compound were on a ridge nestled in the Y of the junction of two good sized rivers. Just across a bridge at the smaller river, we had a small air strip where the Air Force periodically brought supplies for both us and the Vietnamese via Caribou.

One day we were at the bridge replenishing our water supply, when the Phoenix CPT and a small group of boys ages 8-12 approached. A couple of the boys had what looked to be a metal canister about one foot square on the end and about 30 inches long slung on a pole between them. That sort of container normally was filled with nuoc mam, that wonderful aromatic fermented fish stuff the Vietnamese loved. According to the Captain, it was some sort of bomb/explosive device and he wanted us to take it back to the compound so he could study it.

So being the dumb-ass Lt that I was at the time, I complied with my instructions from a senior officer and we loaded the thing on the 2 ½ ton truck and drove back to the compound. It probably weighted about 35-40 lbs. Once there we place the device in the normal spot of the captain’s other toys (next to the shitter), and headed back to the river of another load of water.

Well shortly after we reached the river there was a loud explosion on the compound from the area where we had put the device. We rushed back to the compound to assess the damage. Fortunately, it was siesta time and no one had been wandering around the compound. While there was a fair amount of damage to the latrine and one adjacent building, there was only one casualty, a Vietnamese 1LT who had his room in that area and the wall fell on him as he rested. We got a Medevac, but he didn’t make it.

It is interesting to speculate if the device had a time fuse or was command detonated. If it had a time fuse, which would seem unlikely, unless the bomb was intended to have a random effect, I was both stupid and lucky as it could have gone off while I was in the close proximity.

Now if it was a command detonated device, it would have been relatively easy for the NVA to maintain observation as there were high ridge lines on the far sides of each river. Was the Captain specifically targeted? He was known for buying up stray munitions and things and taking the stuff back to the compound. He was also known for his tinkering with some of the more primitive items. This all could have been observed over time. I have never heard of such a device being used in Vietnam by the NVA, but I don’t thing it was beyond their capability.

Anyway that is my story of a Vietnam IED

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mid-air Collision

Posted for J. M.

One of my most vivid memories of my tour in Vietnam was a mid-air collision between two helicopters – an American Cobra gunship and a Vietnamese UH-1H on May 2, 1970. As an advisor to the Vietnamese, I had been spared the pain of seeing Americans die, and for all these years later, I often thought of the two men on that Cobra. As I got ready to visit the Moving Wall in Lenexa, I realized that I did not know the names of the men.

After a search of the web, I discovered the names of the two crewmembers. They were WO Donald Parker and 1st Lt. Frank Rice. I looked them up on the Virtual Wall website and posted the following on each man’s page:

Jim M
Witness to the midair collision.

We saw it happen
On 1 May 1970, I was an Army Major serving as senior advisor to a Vietnamese armored cavalry squadron, and our incursion into Cambodia began. On that day, my senior NCO advisor looked at everything that was flying and said "Somebody had better get a handle on all this stuff, or we are going to have a midair." The next day it happened - a Cobra clipped the tail boom of a Huey right in our area. The Cobra crew never had a chance. Tonight for the first time I discovered who the crew members were - 1st Lt Frank Rice and WO Donald Parker. This week the Moving Wall comes here, and I will pay my respects to them. May you rest in peace, Heroes.
Sep 10, 2007

On September 14, I received this email:

Mr Mathison --

This evening, i came across your message Frank Rice was my husband.

Would you please tell me exactly, honestly, what happened on 2 may I am presuming that since you have posted this message with your address, that you will not mind my inquiring.

I trust so

Some twenty-five years ago or so, a dear friend, tom griffin, (now retired as ltg) did some investigating for me in doing that, he talked with Col Ted Mathison, who was flying with the team that day. Col Mathison, graciously and generously, asked if he could meet me.

So Tom arranged that in his office.

Apparently the south vietnamese general's helicopter flew into the path of the cobras.

I have read one incident report.

Your view was from the ground up, what did you see?

I seldom look at these sites -- for several reasons. The only one i always see is the one posted by our daughter on -- it is my home page
but tonight, I was looking for information on the reading of names in November -- she and my grandchildren are reading his name and while doing this, I looked at the different sites.

I was stunned when I saw your entry.

C M Rice

By coincidence, one of the men who was with me on the ground also lives in Leavenworth and I called him to confirm some details. After that conversation, I composed the following response to Mrs. Rice:

Dear Mrs. Rice,

I know that my message on the website has reopened your wounds, and for that I am sincerely sorry. I am sure that Frank can never be very far from your thoughts, but you did not need any reminders of that tragic day.

First, let me say that my first view of the accident was a second or so after the impact between the two aircraft. Two people who worked for me did, however, see the whole thing, and they related what happened to me. I have just called one of the two men who were with the unit that was being supported, and he reminded me of a few details that I had not remembered.

This was our second day into a place called “the Parrot’s Beak”, on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. The area that we were attacking was a heavily fortified logistics complex, and we were using every asset that we had available to dislodge the VC who were defending it. Because it was such a critical fight, the Vietnamese IV Corps Commander was on the scene in his helicopter, a UH-1H “Huey”, flown by a Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) crew. We were notified that a flight of 4 Cobras was in the area and available to attack the bunker complex where the heaviest fighting was.

Our troops marked the location of the enemy, and the Cobras started their attack runs. One or more of the ships completed their attacks without incident, and it came the turn of Frank and Mr. Parker to attack. They completed their run and, as they were pulling up, their main rotor hit the tail boom of the VNAF ship. Frank’s Cobra lost its main rotor, and they had no chance to survive. The VNAF ship came down spinning, but under reasonable control until moments before it impacted with the ground. Witnesses agreed that the pilot lost it at the last moment, and the helicopter plummeted to the ground, killing all aboard except for the crew chief.

Our 2-2 Troop dispatched a platoon of 3 armored personnel carriers, including one of my advisory team members, to render any aid possible and secure the site. It was this group that recovered the crew chief and reported that there were no more survivors.

It was apparent even to us non-rated soldiers that Frank and Mr. Parker were in the right, and that the IV Corps Commander’s Huey was down at a level where it did not belong. My first assignment in Vietnam was seven months with a Vietnamese infantry unit, and I flew on combat missions almost daily. I came to understand that there were rules and conventions within the aviation community regarding which levels aircraft should fly. The gun ships had to be allotted enough space to do their jobs, and the command and control ships were to stay out of their space.

Now, may I tell you how this all started, and how I came to post my message on the Virtual Wall website? My older son lives in the Kansas City area, and called to invite me to go with him to visit the Moving Wall this weekend. Although I have been to the Wall in Washington, I have never visited the Moving Wall. It seemed to be important to my son that we go, so I agreed to do so. I began to take stock of who, in particular, I wanted to pay my respects to. I graduated from West Point in 1961, and my first thoughts were of my 12 classmates who died in the war. Some of them were good friends and all were young. I remembered a fellow advisor, a captain who was killed on May 3, and I found his full name and his location on the Wall. Then I recalled that horrible moment of May 2, and realized that I did not know the names of the crew of the American helicopter.

After a lot of research, I found the names – Frank and Mr. Parker – and the accident report. In the course of reading the report, I learned that a Lieutenant Colonel Mathison was in the air over our area. That the only two field grade officers on the scene, this LTC and myself, shared a fairly uncommon last name was a remarkable coincidence. I located the other Mathison in Maryland, and I called him. He remembers that day like it was yesterday, and told me of meeting you when he was stationed in the Pentagon.

So, there you have it. I don’t believe that I have left anything out. I may have said more than you wanted, but I leave that to you to decide. When I go to the Moving Wall tomorrow, I will visit Frank and the others, and remember you and your daughter.

God Bless You,

Jim Mathison

Today, I received this response from her:

Thank you, Col Mathison.
Thank you

Most sincerely,
C M Rice

I received an envelope from Mrs. Rice, containing pictures, newspaper articles, and a letter. In the letter, she apologized for bothering me. I answered with the following email:

Dear Mrs. Rice,

On the contrary, I did not have the thoughts that you supposed. I very much enjoyed looking at the pictures, and reading the articles. You do have a handsome family.

Perhaps you would be interested in knowing a little more of what was behind my posting what I did on the Virtual Wall. I was influenced by the work of a young lady named Tracy Tragos, who is about the age of your daughter, and who also lost her father in Vietnam. Tracy's mother had never been very forthcoming about her dad, so she set out to learn about him. She told the story in the PBS show "Be Good, Smile Pretty." Perhaps you saw it. If not, I recommend it, although it is not easy to watch. The show was first telecast in 2003, but there are still articles and links at

I resolved to try to share anything that I knew if the opportunity ever presented itself. Once again, I hope that, in some small way, our correspondence has helped.

Jim Mathison

Friday, August 8, 2008

Posted by J. K.

When I enlisted in the US Air Force my career options were limited. I chose jet engine mechanic. After completing basic training at Sampson AFB in New York State I was then assigned to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, IL for my technical training. During the course of training one of the NCO instructors observed me explaining the accessory section of a J-47 engine to a classmate. He later asked me if I would like to be an instructor. My first response was no.

After thinking over the opportunity, I went back to him and talked more about it. After that conversation I decided that I would give it a try. Apparently he saw something in me that I did not know about. At the time I did not know anything about power other than the power that comes with position. I used it unmercifully. As I look back on it, I was a tyrant. I had one more stripe than any of the students. You guessed it, I outranked them and I took unfair advantage of that. It was a learning experience.

I remember one class that was particularly unruly. They were required to do the GI party earlier than usual. Hey, if you don't want to learn, then we will let you do something you will have to do anyway.

That was my first taste of being an instructor. I have found out ways to do that from that time on. I like to think that I have mellowed since then. The difference, as far as I can tell, is the discovery of my personal power.

All through my life I have found myself making decisions to be teaching others. It is very rewarding to help others discover things they knew, but were unaware of their knowledge. I was beginning to lay the foundation so that I could discover the concepts of ....

Serve With Integrity! Care About Those You Serve! Share The Love In Your Heart!

In the Beginning...

there were a group of men who met because they shared a common bond - service in the military. They served their country proudly and bravely.

It was appropriate to meet occasionally. Those meetings have continued for many years. When getting together stories and "lies" would be exchanged.

The stories collected here are just a few.