The Fortunate Son Chapter 1:
Army posts can be and are a world unto themselves. Ft. Knox was my home from the summer of 1963 until about April 1966. There was on post housing in named areas such as “Dietz Acres” where we lived along with hundreds of other Army families. It was possible for an Army brat to be born, attend school and graduate from high school on post. The post accommodated the needs of Army brats.
Once Army brats reach a certain age, some things become so normal that they do not mentally register: the sound of distant weapons fire, the line of tanks off in the distance, visible from a school window, the cadence of troops being marched to who knows where. In some ways, it was like living in a foreign country that had restricted borders and required documents to cross into the civilian world. It felt that way only because Army brats who were not old enough to drive were dependent upon their parents or others to get them off post. The reality was that all the basic necessities were available on post and there was little reason to go into the civilian community. In the 60s, Ft. Knox was an open post as people could drive onto and off of the installation without being stopped.
It was Spring 1966. The Army had moving down to a science or so it seemed. Once the process began, it took little time. We were not moving to another post in the continental U.S. Instead, it was a move back to the civilian world, my father’s home state of Ohio. He would go off to Ft. Bragg, without the family, for a couple of months of jungle training before his first year-long tour of duty in Vietnam.
The first tour of duty in Vietnam created the template for how to manage the balance of keeping things as normal as possible . . . school, home life, and the war. It was not as if civilian kids did anything that was different from military brats. It was that our dads had very different types of jobs. Their dads generally came home from work every day. Our dads were gone for a solid year and where they went came with some high risks. It was not good to dwell on the possibilities of a tour of duty that was short of a full year.
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The Fortunate Son Chapter 5:
November 2, 1968, was only the first or second day at LZ Billy and the 2nd Platoon of B2-7 was told to go out on a patrol. To Jack Jeter, it sounded simple enough. From what he heard, the platoon would go about 300 to 500 meters out from the perimeter, turn right or left, go about that same distance, and come back to the LZ. Sgt. Gast, a squad leader, was under a similar impression. The platoon was not supposed to go more than about 500 meters beyond the perimeter. The platoon’s task was to sweep an area out in front of its position beyond the LZ’s perimeter.
It did not go well. Gast explains. “We went about three klicks. We went farther than what we were supposed to and, eventually, it was all jungle. We didn’t know where we were.”
As the three squads walked separate columns, Jeter was walking point for the squad that was on the right side of Holtz’s squad. “We get up into the jungle pretty far, and all hell breaks loose. Gast’s point man is the first one hit.”
Lt. Montgomery’s 1st Platoon was sent out to help and rescue the 2nd Platoon. “The machine guns opened up on us. I would’ve cut the buttons off my shirt if I could’ve gotten lower. The intensity of the NVA fire on the troops trying to help 2nd Platoon
prevented a “rescue”.
The 1st Platoon and others trying to reach them caused the NVA to divert their attention onto the additional American troops, relieving some of the pressure on 2nd Platoon. the NVA themselves started to pull back, leaving just a few troops to keep the Americans tied down.
As the 2nd Platoon was pulling back, somebody in a helicopter located the platoon, “he started calling in artillery in around us and got a Loach with a mini-gun on it and he just blew a path,” Gast recalls. What no one on the ground knew at the time was that a captain, in the helicopter above, was coordinating with the 2nd Platoon leader, arranging to create a path using a helicopter’s mini-guns, to provide safe passage out.
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