The Boys of Battery B
In 1972 Ernie went back for a second tour in Vietnam.
I was the G3 (Operations) advisor for the 1st ARVN Division, which was the premier division of the Army of Vietnam. I was a major by then, in a job that usually went to a lieutenant colonel who had graduated from the Leavenworth staff course, which I had not gone to because I was a reserve officer. It was kind of interesting. We had a small advisory team, and an aviation battalion, and that was all. We were advising the ARVN and providing aviation support.
We were up in Hue (near the North Vietnam border). I got there for the Easter Offensive in 1972 when the North Vietnamese came across in force. It was like World War II, not like Vietnam. It was multiple corps versus multiple corps. It was not counter-insurgency. Coming at us were tanks and artillery in-coming all the time. There were days when we took 6,000 rounds of in-coming. It was hellacious. A hell of a war.
We were taking in-coming every day. We had to sleep in bunkers. It was fantastic. But it was a really great experience.
Is that where you earned your Purple Heart?
You didn’t run into a tent pole did you?
(Laughs) It was from an in-coming artillery attack. And that was really funny. There was in-coming artillery and I dove for a ditch and the round went off and blew me down in the ditch – thank goodness – I didn’t get any fragmentation, but it broke my arm. They evacuate me to the field hospital at Da Nang.
First of all I say, “I guess I’m going home, right?”
The guy says, “No, you’re not goin’ home.”
“What do you mean I’m not going home?”
He says, “Well, if this had happened two weeks ago you’d be going home, but the policy now is if it’s not a life-threatening wound you stay here and finish your tour.”
I say, “OK.”
And he says, “But we can’t cast it. You have to wrap an ace bandage around your body and hold your arm like this with an ace bandage.”
I say, “Wait a minute. We’re under artillery attack every day. What am I going to do when in-coming starts comin’ in?”
He says, “Just stay in the rear area where there’s no artillery.”
I say, “There is no rear area.”
I was on the last plane out March 22, 1973. Two planes left that day, one from Da Nang, one from Saigon. I was on the one out of Da Nang. So I always like to make light of the fact. I’d say, “You know I was in Vietnam when there were only 200 guys.”