Instant Sergeant

U.S. Army Sergeant stripes atop Republic of Vietnam flagDear Mom and Dad

Yesterday I sent you a copy of my five orders. I had just received them, now your little baby is a sergeant in the U.S. Army. I was sure glad to make it. Since I’ve been here I’ve received an Air Medal for making so many combat assaults, a Combat Infantry Badge, and a case of the nerves, but that’s all in the game.

Excerpt from a letter home dated: 25 April 1968

Former ‘Slick-sleeve’, He’s Now ‘Instant Sergeant’

By SP4 Herb Denton, article was featured in Cavalair (newspaper about the 1st Air Cavalry Division), Vol. 2, No. 57 and printed on December 27, 1967

When Charlie Cox Jr., arrived at the 1st Air Cavalry Division Continue reading

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Vietnam War engraved Zippo: Come on baby, light my fire

My dad and his platoon happened upon a VC weapons cache; by ‘happened’ I mean they ambushed a VC convoy. He took a rifle and with the proper paperwork was allowed to take it Stateside when his tour was over. For years I was told that when he died I could do whatever I like with any of his possessions but never ever give away or sell that rifle-a Chinese Type-53 Mosin Nagant, Caliber 7.62, Model 1954. He saved all the paperwork-applications, customs forms, weapons registration, etc., which had nothing to do with nostalgia and more to do with making sure he had everything documented; all his ducks in a row as he liked to say. I promised him I would keep it and I did.

Yet out of everything he held onto from the Vietnam War-letters, papers, photos, gear, etc.-none of it means as much to me as his engraved Zippo.

It’s a 1967 Continue reading

Comfortably numb

In September 2008, I gave the doctors permission to remove my father from life support and a few hours later he passed away ending forty years of suffering. The last time I saw my father, before he drove himself to the Emergency Room, before he went into a coma, before he died, was in May when I came for a visit.  We ordered pizza, discussed our favorite topics: religion and politics, and drove to the cemetery.  He wanted to show me his completed headstone engraved with his military service, rank and 1st Cavalry badge.  He was quite proud of it.  The only thing missing was the date of death; carved a year later with the date: September 2008.  A mistake actually, because my dad was killed serving his country in Vietnam, March 1968.  It just took a really long time for him to die.

Drafted in 1966, he was 19, a small town Iowa boy who got into trouble with the law on occasion and developed a smoking habit but also sang in the church choir and loved his mom with all his heart.  I never knew what he dreamed about becoming when he grew up, I guess fate decided for him.  He kept his draft letter and I still have it.

I didn’t ask him what he was thinking when he was drafted or when he left for basic training or how he felt when he received his orders to serve in ‘Nam.  I can picture that conversation, him sitting across from me giving me that look he perfected, which said do you really need to ask a question with such an obvious answer?  He would pause, remove his hand from under his chin, and look at me like I was stupid.