15 Nov 2012

Duty

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1960s US ARVN advisor

For Veterans Day, Major General Jerry R. Curry shared a memory from the War in Vietnam.

It was the spring of 1971 and Captain Larry McNamara, one of my advisors to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), and I were sitting across from each other on a hot, sparsely covered jungle hillside sipping bitter Vietnamese tea. In between us was a fold-up wooden military campaign table.

My other advisors sat silently apart from us under a clump of pine trees pretending not to be eaves dropping on our conversation. They were cleaning and oiling their weapons, preparing for combat, deep in the jungle. Occasionally their eyes wandered toward us.

A week before, Larry had been deserted and left to die out in the jungle by the Fourth ARVN Battalion commander, Major Uy. Uy was a first class coward and Larry’s returning alive was an embarrassment to him. If Larry had died as Uy intended, Uy could have fabricated a story about the fighting having been so intense that he and Mac had been forcibly separated and he had risked his own life trying to find him.

But because Larry had defied all of the odds and come back alive, Uy was forced to explain why they had become separated. According to Uy’s version of events, he had become so deathly sick that he was unable to lead his battalion. So he was forced to make his way back to the rear to find medical help. Most of the other ARVN officers and senior sergeants had followed him. Larry had ended up commanding the encircled ARVN remnant and was able to lead them to safety.

“Larry,” you’ve studied the plan and you know that we’re committing every available combat unit to this fight.”

“Yes, and you want me to go back out with the Fourth Battalion again. Is it still commanded by that coward, Uy?”

“Yes it is,” I said.

“Colonel, you know as well as I that at the first shot fired, he will turn tail and run and the battalion will fall apart, just like it did last week.” He was stating simple, unemotional fact.

After a long pause he added, “If I go, I won’t come back. The North Vietnamese Army won’t let me get away twice.”

“I know,” I replied looking away, feeling pain deep down inside. “Do you want me to go in your place?”

“No,” he countered sharply. “You’ve got your job to do and I’ve got mine.”

Simultaneously we pushed our metal folding chairs back, stood, and shook hands. “Goodbye, Colonel,” he said. “We won’t meet again … at least not in this life. Write my wife, tell her I love her.” I nodded and he was gone.

Read the whole thing.

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