Valley Voices

Jim Doyle: They will always be Lieutenant, Sarge

My friend Don like to say we served together, at different times. Like a few hundred thousand

other men and women who were “in country” from the mid-60’s until April 30, 1975, I

understand what he means. Don finished his tour in 1968 and I was assigned to the company in

January 1969. We served together, at different times.

He is organizing a reunion of our old unit, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment,

1st Infantry Division. The Swamp Rats of the Big Red One, Vietnam 1966 - 1970. There are guys

on the reunion list who were in the unit at the beginning of our war, in 1966. We all served

together, at different times.

Platoon Leaders, Company Commanders, Platoon Sergeants, there are even a couple of First

Sergeants on the list. I see their addresses, phone numbers, and given names. Names like Patrick,

Charles, Richard, and a collection of names common to the time of our birth and our region.

When I was 19, frightened out of my shorts and certain I was going to die any moment, it was

the Lieutenant who stood like a heroic statue, not having to say or do anything, his mere

presence bringing some clarity and order to the situation, or whatever passed for order under the


We were on a sweep in the Michelin Rubber Plantation at the end of March 1969, and stumbled

across a well-camouflaged regimental base camp, with heavily reinforced bunkers, commo wire,

the whole package. Quarters, supplies, and admin for about 1200 soldiers.

The Lieutenant had a habit of carrying two white phosphorous (Willie Pete) grenades on the

straps of his rucksack, one on each side of his chest. He was wounded when an enemy soldier

popped up out of a well-concealed hole and fired one shot with his AK-47. The single round hit

one of the grenades and rather than exploding, it broke apart and the WP began to burn through

his uniform and into his flesh. Willie Pete burns ferociously and is sometimes very difficult to

extinguish. Doc was on the scene almost immediately rendering aid and preparing the Lieutenant

for evacuation.

How on Earth can I call this man Pat or Patrick?

Our Platoon Sergeant was a hard-core Army man who ended up spending four full tours and

retired as an E-9 First Sergeant. He was on his second tour in 1969, and working with the

Lieutenant ran a tight, well-disciplined platoon.

Sarge managed to transform a gaggle of guys from every social, economic, ethnic, educational,

and political patch in the American quilt, including Puerto Rico, thrown together with a few

months training and ten lifetimes worth of rumors into a well-disciplined infantry platoon, every

man part of the team, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

He kicked our asses, screamed at us like a Drill Sergeant, slapped us upside the head and with

the force of his presence and character urged us to, “get your s____ together!” We did. We

learned how to survive at his hand and I for one am forever grateful. He made it possible for

many of us to come home alive.

I could never bring myself to call him Charles or Chuck or Charlie. It’s always going to be Sarge

or Sergeant.

What about that guy who patched me up on July 15, 1969?

US Army Medics, and US Navy Corpsman who serve with the Marines reach a point in service

when the men they are responsible for grant them the title of “Doc.” It is an honor to be called

“Doc” by your patients, your buddies, the men whose lives are in your hands.

Doc was kneeling next to me practically before the sound of the explosion had stopped ringing in

our ears. In that time when time slows down so you are falling through Jello, time, and all that

happens in that strange slow motion flow that quickly passes and you don’t have time to check

your watch because the blood is running down your arm and you’re going into shock. DOC!

“Shut up, I’m right here.”

How can I ever call him Richard, or Dick, or Richie? Really?

It is just not respectful to call them by any other name than their rank, because they earned it. By

any other name they will always be Lieutenant Squire, Sergeant Ruda, and Doc Aper.