1st Battalion 22nd Infantry

 

 

B Company 2nd Platoon

1969-1970

by James Henderson

 

Of Jungle Sweaters and Generals



The passing of General Glenn D. Walker, this past May, has caused me to pause and recall an event
that happened some 30+ years ago. The time was early 1970, maybe even late 1969. The season was monsoon
and the place was the Central Highlands of Vietnam. At the time General Walker was the Division Commander
of the 4th Inf Div, and I was a PFC grunt under his command, serving with Bravo Company 1/22.

Odd as it may seem, the only General who’s presence I was ever in, was General Walker.
Believe it or not he came out to the boonies to inspect our perimeter. Now, I’m not talking about the perimeter
of a Firebase, which would in itself have been fairly unusual. No, I’m talking about a night location in the bush.
I honestly don’t remember if it was a company size November Lima or a platoon size, probably 90% of the time
we operated as a platoon size unit, but occasionally we would hook up with the other two platoons.
We’re talking 25, to no more than 75 men.

In any event, General Walker strides up as we’re digging our hole, three or four of us, and asks,
“Who’s in charge here?”. We’re dumb struck, we don’t know whether to snap to, turn tail and run, or what.
We assume a sort of loose parade rest and look back and forth at each other as if someone being in charge
had never occurred to us (all being E-3’s or E-4’s). Finally John Brown, figuring he had the most time in country,
finds his tongue and replies “Hell General, I guess I am” ( Brown’s from Arkansas).
Walker barks “ Soldier, do all your men have jungle sweaters?”--- well, this was a standing joke among grunts in the field
at the time -- jungle sweaters were virtually non-existent and very much sought after items. Brown does a double take
and says “Hell, General we ain’t never even seen jungle sweaters”. Walker simply does an about face
and off he goes, we all un-pucker.

Forever after, guys would holler at Brown “ Hey Brown, Who’s in charge!!”, or better yet “ Hey Brown,
do all your men have jungle sweaters!!” Brown suffered it all good naturedly, he was a nice guy.
I always much admired Walker for having the gumption for coming out to visit us like that. I never remember anyone else
above the rank of Major coming out to the bush, and that only once. I was also, always most appreciative
of the calm demeanor he exhibited while being confronted by the Three Stooges digging their nightly hole.
I’m surprised one of us didn’t shoulder the shovel and swing it wildly to the left or right and bean the others.
He could have given us a thorough dressing down and we would have been deserving, but he didn’t.
He didn’t say a derogatory word. Our CO, Cpt Gil Tijerina, was an aide-de-camp to Walker for a while
and he spoke highly of him, also.

And no, we never did get jungle sweaters.

James Henderson B/1/22 4th Div 1969-70

 

 

James Henderson

 

Hunger Hill

The following events transpired somewhere near the beginning of my tour, late '69 early '70's.
It was during the full-fledged monsoon, so I'll place it about mid-December '69,

Bravo Co. 1/22, working out of LZ Beaver spent 34 straight days humping through hills and valleys,
in the Central Highlands, of Binh Dinh Province. The rain was relentless; alternating between a light mist
and a heavy deluge, but always precip of some variety. During this time we were nearly always fogged in
if we were at any elevation at all and sometimes even in the valley floors.

Due to the fog and lack of natural LZ locations in the triple canopy jungle, it varied from hard to impossible
to get choppers into resupply us. Somehow they usually made it, even if a day late - occasionally.
This story centers around a prolonged severe fog session. When the birds were one day late, we didn't get too excited.
That was no real big deal. There was plenty of extra C's, cigs and hot chocolate to go around.
On the bird's second day late (probably 5 or 6 days total) supplies were starting to run rather low.
All day long we waited at our planned re-supply LZ for the fog to lift. It got heavier. By the end of the day,
as darkness closed in, we knew that no birds would be coming on this day. Spirits were low and supplies
were virtually nonexistent. It was a long, cold, wet night, with not much to be encouraged about.

At first light on the third day late it seemed obvious that the fog had only worsened during the night.
No one had any chow left, everything had already been scrounged and consumed. By noon nothing had improved.
My buddy, Paul, who was one of he shortest timers in the pit (and by far the most seasoned and far sighted among us)
digs in his ruck sack and comes up with some hot chocolate, a can of peaches, and a smashed-crumbled half pack
of Red Dogs (Pall Mall's). Never had such meager rations been so enthusiastically received. Paul shared equally
with everyone in our squad and even had an extra cig or two for other squads. The afternoon came and went -
solid fog and drizzle. No re-supply birds. Again, darkness fell and a truly long, cold and wet night.

I guess the point of the story was dawn on the fourth day late (7 or 8 days since the last re-supply).
Same fog and drizzle - absolutely and positively no chow, no coffee, nothing - not even one lone broken,
mangled cigarette. Out of everything. As we lay in our poncho hooch trying to stay dry and watched the growing light
trying to penetrate the fog, no one even talking, Paul voiced what the rest of us were thinking. "You know" he said
"we don't have one single solitary reason to even get up, or to even move for that matter; not one reason."
The sense of despair, hung in the air thicker than the fog. After that morning, I experienced sadder times
and I had scarier times and there were times when I was more tired. There were times of more frustration
and desperation maybe even bigger disappointment. But never again did we feel such hopelessness, helplessness
and utter despair. It came to be known as Hunger Hill. I guess it also came to simplify how fragile
something as seemingly simple as re-supply could be. Never again would we take anything for granted.
We learned to always squirrel away something to eat, drink or smoke.

Finally about 4:00 PM on the fourth day late on an adjacent hilltop, in a small cleared area, one bird landed.
A squad - maybe two - were dispatched to hump over and bring back C's and SP's. I was in one of the squads.
A Major, probably the BN XO., (I can't recall his name and maybe he'll see this and recognize himself)
got off the bird, with those C's and humped two cases right along with the rest of us all the way back to our plt AO.
Other plts met us there and we split the supplies. It didn't go far, but it got us through until the weather finally broke
and we could get a complete re-supply. Night closed quickly and the Major spent the night in the boonies with us.
Even if I can't remember his name we'll never forget his actions and the eternal respect he earned from the men on Hunger Hill..

 

 

James Henderson

 

The D-Handle Shovel

I don't know if it was standard practice everywhere in the 4 Infantry Division, but in my company,
we never humped military issue entrenching tools. Instead, we carried a full-sized D-Handle shovel
(henceforth referred to simply as the "D-Handle"). Due to the high-performance power of this larger shovel,
it was only necessary to carry one D-Handle per squad, with each member taking turns transporting it.
When humping the D-Handle up and down the mountain trails, it was a common practice to tie it to the top
of your rucksack—handle side up and business end dangling down—with ever-present extra bootlaces.
This way it tended to swing free and instead of getting caught on limbs and wait-a-minute vines,
it would simply rotate and fall free.

When it was your turn, it was your turn, combat assault or not. No one liked having their turn fall during a combat assault.
There was no scientific (or graceful) method to get off the chopper with the D-Handle and all the other gear,
plus your weapon. Probably, the most often used method was to make sure you were sitting in the door of the chopper
and as it touched down, simply chuck the D-Handle as far as you could (assuming no one was in front of you)
and then retrieve it after you got yourself off the chopper.

In April 1970 I was serving with Company B, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, somewhere in the central highlands
in the Binh Dinh Province, north of An Khe. My company was being combat assaulted into a new AO.
The landing zone was not "hot," but it was unsecured, and we were on one of the first few choppers in.
I was carrying the D-Handle.

Well, "Mr. Brain Surgeon" here decides he has a way to build a better mousetrap. (Mind you, at the time,
I weighed probably 130 pounds. I'm sure my fully-loaded ruck sack weighed at least ninety or so pounds).
I decided, why not tie the D-Handle to my ruck to start with and not even have to think about it during the CA,
just jump out with it tied behind me and let it follow me out?

Our pilot skillfully came in fast and touched down completely, a feat always greatly appreciated by overloaded grunts
not wishing to jump even a few inches— much less a few feet, as was sometimes the case. We all began to jump out.
As I heaved myself out the door of the chopper, it felt as though an invisible hand was pulling me back.
Of course, during the ride, you tended to lean back so the weight of your pack was resting on the floor and you,
in turn, were resting on your pack. I think I must have underestimated the weight of my ruck, so I gave an even stronger
heave-ho and tried to clear the deck and get off the chopper. Again, the invisible hand yanked me back into the chopper.
This time, I looked back and saw a frantic door gunner reaching madly, coming up just short, trying to get my attention
with one hand while slapping wildly with the other to get his helmet off. It seemed the top of the D-handle
had the intercom wiring leading from his helmet to the pilot wrapped around it. Each time I tried to leap out of the chopper,
I was nearly ripping his helmet off, with his head still in it! I lurched, he jerked; I lurched, he jerked;
the hapless guy couldn't get away from me.

I finally got us unhooked and got off the chopper. No one else was aware of the little drama that had unfolded
except the gunner and me. I was immediately overwhelmed by the hilarity of the scene and by the time I reached
my fellow squad members, I was cracking up with laughter. Everyone else was still a little apprehensive and on edge
about setting up a perimeter on the unsecured LZ and couldn't figure out what was so funny.

I guess you had to have been me or the door gunner to get the full effect, but I described it to them as best I could.
I've often wondered if the door gunner thought it was as funny as I did, or if when he retold the story
he called me "this crazy grunt," or something more descriptive, who tried to rip his head off. Who knows?
Maybe he'll see this story and recognize himself in it. Sometimes the strangest things could lighten an otherwise tense situation.

 

**********************

 

 


BACK

Home | Photos | Battles & History | Current |
Rosters & Reports | Medal of Honor | Killed in Action |
Personnel Locator | Commanders | Station List | Campaigns |
Honors | Insignia & Memorabilia | 4-42 Artillery | Taps |
What's New | Editorial | Links |