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War Stories

All in a Day’s Work -1969

Ray Kenneth Clark

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WingedSabresThe following narrative is an excerpt from the daily log of CPT Ray K. Clark, troop commander, D-3/4 Cavalry, in 1969. At the time, D-3/4 Cav was serving as the divisional air cavalry troop for the 25th Infantry Division in the Cu Chi area. Captain Clark was serving his second tour in Vietnam, his first tour having been with the 1st Cavalry Division. This diary provides a rare insight into the daily life of a troop commander directing tactical operations and enduring the trials of unit administration.

This diary was also published in the book "Winged Sabers" by Lawrence H. Johnson III in 1990. (a great book!).

CPT Clark returned to CONUS, separated from the Army in 1973, was a manager of a commodities firm in TN, and retired in 2011. His book “Just Let Me Walk Away” about both of his tours in Vietnam was published in 2012.

23 Nov 69
I guess I’ll try this again for awhile though I really don’t have time for it. I inherited command of D Troop, 3/4 Cav the 21st because of Major Adams’s emergency leave. It’s been a hectic first three days. An LOH got into a tail rotor stall yesterday noon - pilot thought it was tail rotor failure, rolled off throttle and landed hard, shoving the cross tubes up in the belly. DEROS one LOH but no one hurt. Problems ran the gamut. Had to send one officer home because of his wife. I thought my problems were tough til I learned of theirs. Aircraft were up and down for maintenance like yo-yos all day. The evening was topped off by some young hero who got drunk and terrorized some of the troops. MPs finally found him and locked him up.
Today was my day to leave for a 7-day leave in Manila. Sorry about that. One of my Cobras crashed at 0650 this morning killing both pilots. Main rotor shaft sheared and rotor head and blades separated from the aircraft. No enemy fire - pure accident. That has to be the worst way to go. Things haven’t been so hot lately. We’ve lost 5 killed and about 12 wounded in the last 30 days. Lots of people offering me support - seem genuinely glad I got the troop. I’m supposed to keep it 30 days or til I leave 18 Jan. Happiness is 4 slicks, 7 LOHs and 6 Cobras flyable. GI bug spray is great. Just sprayed a mosquito and he fell from midair like he was shot. Scratch one VC mosquito.

25 Nov 69
Amazing - no crash yesterday. This place is unbelievable. Planned and reconned a night raid on a VC tax collector’s hootch tonight but were diverted at the last moment for a night combat assault. Extracted a unit which had been hit near Dau Tieng. They had no way to mark their position. I can’t believe I was hovering around in the northern Boi Loi Woods at night with my search light hunting those clowns and guiding them to an LZ. What a screwed up operation. And then I finally get back to the troop area some nut runs off with a mortar round and throws it on a hootch. Oh, I like it here. 53 days.

26 Nov 69
I’m glad I didn’t know last night what I heard today. We hovered over a VC battalion size base camp last night. All that hovering with search light on was over their base camp. I’m rather glad they didn’t blow us away. Must have been afraid the world would fall in on them if they fired. Someone broke in and stole $100 or so from the EM Club last night. MPs must know my voice by now. A LOH took heavy fire from 15 meters and smacked a tree evading. Broke the bubble and bent it up a little. No one hurt. Another fun day. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I thank the Lord for my hide and another 52 days. Had memorial services tonight for the 2 officers killed Sunday. I pray for no more of those.

Thanksgiving, 27 Nov 69
Quite a day. Mess hall surprised me. It looked real nice and dinner was very good. Squadron CO commander gave two Article 15s for me today, and I gave one. Would have given another but didn’t get to it. Discipline - I sometimes think it is a forgotten word. Mini-Cav set off a booby trap this evening. Five seriously wounded, two lightly, and two Kit Carson Scouts seriously wounded. Thank God no one was killed. There must be an uneventful day ahead somewhere.

28 Nov 69
Another fast day. Saw my boys in the hospital. They go to Japan in the morning and then home. One from Miami, Oklahoma. Flew a night CA in a raid on a tax collector’s house tonight. Guns tore the house up and I was on a short final to the front yard when the infantry battalion CO called us off. He didn’t have his stuff together. We’d have been in there if we’d been in charge. It was a real slick night operation up to the point he called us off. Another CA at 0300 at Tay Ninh. Four of my slicks going in on someone else’s gaggle. I’m not going. Too much to do tomorrow. Incident for the day. LOH minigun decided to expend on takeoff over Cu Chi. Pilot got it up in the air so no one shot. Another of my pilots investigated for shooting without permission. Some fine war. Death doesn’t ask permission. It forges to the front when a man hesitates. You can’t shoot without permission. Unbelievable but true. Rules -

29 Nov 69
I can’t believe it. A fairly calm normal day without a major flap - so far. Nothing is definite or lasting here. Another Article 15 today. Had dinner with Charlie Smoot tonight. I wish I had him for an XO. Tomorrow is pay day. Hope I have time for church. Bought some Christmas cards for the kids today. Don’t know what I’ll do for gifts. I have a sore throat. Doc came up with an amazing discovery - I have a sore throat. Standard treatment - APC and if I die, come back. Bedtime.

30 Nov 69
A quiet day for a change. What a blessing. Three more fine Article 15s today and two 212s lined up. These guys are a little slow to get the message. A real fine cold I have. If I could run as fast as my nose, I’d be in the pros instead of Vietnam. I’ve been waiting a long time on December. One of my 212 cases is a little nutty. Hope he stays sane til I get rid of him. Lots going on around here. I have God’s help.

1 Dec 69
Thank God for a quiet day. I’ve had worse colds but I don’t remember when. Having trouble keeping the Cobras up. Maintenance people need a boot about every 30 seconds. I got two of them. I’ve been a captain 3 years today. Seems impossible. Time keeps gaining speed.

2 Dec 69
Thank the Lord for December and another day without big flaps. Only small things like machine guns being stolen off the helicopters and another Article 15. These guys will learn sooner or later you don’t goof off or mouth off to an NCO or officer. Having trouble getting parts for Cobras. Having a tough time keeping minimum 6 flying for the past few days. Sometimes it goes that way. It will be LOHs or slicks next. Warrant officer taking over maintenance has only one gear so I guess I’ll encourage him so he’ll change that gear to high and stay there. Good isn’t enough. You got to hustle all the time. If I can just make these people hustle, we’ll have a good unit. Got two new WOs today. They look young and scared. That must be as old as war itself. They’re just new. They’ll be tigers soon.

3 Dec 69
Nothing particularly bad happened today, just a few little things to keep me unhappy. There has been so little discipline for so long that some of the people are having growing pains. Bless them. They will become accustomed to it.

4 Dec 69
Finally got some pinaprime in the revetment area. Had to go to the DISCOM Cmdr. For results. Went to a commanders meeting at FSB Hampton this PM. New Squadron CO, LTC Corwin Mitchell is outstanding. He’s going to be great to work for. I wish we could work closer with the squadron. One Cobra and one LOH took hits today. They got one body count and two possible. The LOH pilot also stuck his tail rotor in a bush. I’ll take a hammer to his head. I’ve affirmed something during the last two weeks that I’ve long suspected. I’m underpaid.

7 Dec 69
It’s been busy - 21 hours the 5th and 18 the past two. Can’t get away from meetings and briefings. Had a man the 5th threaten to kill himself with grenades. He walked through the area at night with the pins pulled. He threw two grenades and I talked him into throwing the third instead of blowing himself up. It was like in the movies. This kid with the pin pulled on a grenade threatened to blow himself up and me standing beside him trying to talk him out of it. Sure glad it worked. Crazy. I’ll never know for sure because he didn’t hurt himself or anyone but I think maybe I saved his life. I sure thought he was going to drop the grenades before I got to him. There was a crowd of MPs and people all around and lights glaring on him and the MPs yelling at him and him yelling and throwing grenades. When I came up and yelled at him and said this is CPT Clark he stopped and said “Yes, Sir.” I was able to talk to him then. It took about 30 minutes. He wouldn’t give me the grenades, but finally I got him to throw it and then I took him to the hospital. Never a dull moment. No more John Wayne episodes for me.
Yesterday was long and hard like all of them. God - a new 1LT maintenance officer.
Made church today for the first time in three weeks. Bought some things to send for Christmas. Three Cobras jammed up coming into PE. I’ve got to make some more changes in the way this outfit is run. Had a meeting tonight with 2nd Brigade CO and S-3 tonight about the use of Mini- Cav. Got some things straightened out and several things going our way. The colonel is a good man to talk to - the S-3 is a clod.

8 Dec 69
Somehow the days just don’t get any shorter. There is always some major flap that requires personal attention and keeps me from doing all the things I need to do. Such as eat, sleep... One of my captains fired into an area 24 Nov suppressing for slicks on an extraction. He did not call for permission to fire and though he saw no one there were three civilians in the tree line and one was killed. He was recommended for Article 15 for not requesting permission to shoot. So much for a fine officer’s career if he gets it. A fine war and fine support we have from the people at home. We must risk our soldiers’ lives and take casualties in order to insure we do not injure any civilian who may or may not be friendly. There has never been a war fought by such rules in the history of warfare. The self-righteous indignant public outcry over so-called American atrocities makes me sick. How can people be so naive? When you fight, people get hurt. No one ever said war was nice. It surely isn’t fun.

9 Dec 69
Only a 16-hour day today. I must be slacking off. My grenade thrower is coming back tomorrow. I have him set up for the fastest 212 discharge in history. I’m sure tired. I got the nicest letter from my loving wife today. Had a LOH shot down this morning by a RPG round. Twenty-five holes in the aircraft, but it’s repairable. Three crew members only light frag wounds. All are back in the unit. Thank God for their lives. A troop commander carries a heavy load. It looks like a tough row ahead for this one.

10 Dec 69
My goal is a 12-hour day. Fastest 212 in history underway on my favorite grenade thrower. Mini-Cav scrambled and got airborne for down ship today in less than 8 minutes. Not getting much results in the field though.

12 Dec 69
Cobras, Cobras. They are a struggle. Had two rifles wounded today - booby trapped 105 round. Awfully lucky they weren’t killed. Steel pot saved one’s life. Was going to fly tomorrow but must babysit Cobras.

14 Dec 69
It’s Sunday and has been an easy day. One LOH made a precautionary landing and had to be brought in by sling load. It’s an engine change. Aerorifles policed up a big rice cache today. Yesterday they got a female VC tax collector with several pictures and documents. PIO is doing an article on the Mini-Cav for Thunder Magazine.

15 Dec 69
No wounded, no ships shot up, no flaps, but it’s been a tough day. Maybe I’m just getting tired. My cold seems to be coming back. Cobras just will not stay flyable. Got another new maintenance officer today. A captain - seems to have a good head. Good thing. The LT I got the other day is about as smart as a small box of rocks.

16 Dec 69
They say it’s getting close to Christmas. I must come up with something to make it Christmas for my people. Certainly the war won’t stop and neither can we. My cold or flu or whatever it is is back. I feel dizzy a lot. Got a haircut today and fell asleep in the barber’s chair. I need to get out and fly with my troops but can’t manage with this head stopped up. I asked to go home a few days early today. I may get it. Home. I can’t imagine it. I just can’t really imagine really going home. Home is only a dream. Vietnam is real, even after you leave it. The protestors make me ill. They are so quick to judge so much with so little knowledge. I am confident God would not let our terrible sacrifice here go for naught - but man would. No one suffers from war like the professional soldier, yet he is the first in line for abuse. It is perhaps an unjust cross to carry but thank God it has never proven too heavy, nor will it or any other for the Christian who has faith.

17 Dec 69
Another long day. An NBC news correspondent filmed and interviewed four of my aviators today. He is doing a story and wanted to know how they felt about killing. Great subject. I instituted some major changes in the operation of the troop tonight. Basically, I put the maintenance people in the maintenance business and the operations people in the operations business. On the whole, morale seems to be really rising. Two months and this will be the best unit in Vietnam.

18 Dec 69
What a day this has been. It’s really been one of those. Signed court martial charges on one man. Requested Squadron Article 15 on another. Investigated allegations on another. Took in a briefing on a mission for the Mini-Cav with the Rangers. One of my armament idiots accidentally fired six rounds from an M60 machine gun waist high across the front of the hangars through Tech Supply and only Lord knows where. We were so lucky no one was hurt. That young man will also have a real fine Article 15 and his sergeant will wish he had one. It was pure carelessness. Wrote up some awards. Had a LOH make a precautionary landing at a fire support base with a chip detector light on. My two new maintenance officers charged out there and decided they couldn’t fix it and so left it in the FSB overnight. They goofed. The ship is a perfect drawing card for incoming. And the chip detector is no problem. But they did the best they could. They made a decision with the knowledge they had. It will be alright - if the ship doesn’t get blown away. What they did was safe and they learned. I can’t get excited over a mistake like that - if the ship doesn’t get blown away. Some of my boys got into another fracas with the MPs. Last night the MPs put charges against my boys. Tonight my boys want to prefer charges on the MPs. D Troop is never dull. Finally got started for the club about 2300 for a Coke and I found MPs swarming around one of my hootches. Seems some of my boys were throwing mud balls at the MPs as they drive by. No one around today wanting to know how we like killing. One of the generals coming over in the morning to look around. Bless him. I’m tired.

RAY