Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
Viet Nam was a mess when I arrived there in 1967 and I knew it would stay that way. I believed then, and still do, the USA had no objective and hence no strategy would matter. Our country had gotten involved in a war there because one of the sides claimed to favor “democracy” so we had to help them fight their neighbors. It would have been much better if we had let them unite, and then become friends with their nation.
I was assigned to the First Air Cavalry Division, Field Artillery. My only artillery experience had been with nuclear weapons in Germany, and I was not qualified to command a howitzer battery in combat. Therefore, I was assigned to command the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery and also to serve as the S-1, the Personnel Officer. I was responsible for administrative functions rather than combat capabilities. This HQ assignment probably saved my life, although I was wounded in the Tet Offensive of 1968 when my bunker was hit by a mortar round.
For the first six months in Viet Nam I was in An Khe where there was an officers’ club. In early January 1968 I was having a beer there with my West Point classmate Kirby Wilcox, an officer with great potential for becoming a General. Kirby told me he had volunteered for front line duty rather than admin assignments at HQ because he felt is was his duty to see front line action. He was killed shortly after he took the job. I kept my admin assignment.
Part of my responsibilities was to coordinate celebrity visits to our troops in the field. I assigned myself to be the escort officer for Joe DiMaggio when he came to spend a few days with us in early 1968 before the baseball season started. Joltin’ Joe was perhaps THE most famous New York Yankee of all time. We flew around in one of the First Cav helicopters to visit the troops on the front lines. Sitting together and talking, I told him my story about Mantle, Maris and Berra. He had to chuckle. Before his departure back to the US, he asked me if there was anyone he could call on my behalf to let them know I was doing okay. Joe was starting in a new position in executive management with the Oakland Athletics then, and I happened to have an uncle in Oakland who had invited me to stay with his family for a few days while I was on my way to Viet Nam. I learned later from my uncle that when he had received the call from Joe DiMaggio, he had answered, “Yeah, right, Joe DiMaggio,” and hung up, not believing such an icon would call him. He did believe it when few days later he received in the mail an Oakland Athletics baseball cap, signed by Joe.
The rest of my time in Viet Nam was either very boring or way too exciting, like during attacks by the enemy or Bob Hope tour.
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.