Category Archives: Infantry OCS

The walking wounded

Steve Hamblin, a classmate in Infantry OCS, writes to the group after I posted the Second of the third:

“Still thinking about Wheat losing most of his platoon. My God that must have haunted him. There are no words. Vietnam is long over but there remain walking wounded among us and sometimes we learn too late who they are.”

Via OC-504-68 FtBenning at yahoo!.com

Second of the third

My friend Russell Wheat crossing a rice paddy on patrol west of Saigon sometime in 1968-69. A brave man doing his duty.

The leader of 3rd platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade was wounded in both legs and sent to Japan where he recovered and was sent back to the field to complete his tour. He was the lucky one.

How this 2nd Lieutenant of Military Intelligence got to be leading an infantry platoon is a story worthy of our famous funnyman. He told it to me and a few others at breakfast at our Infantry OCS class reunion in San Antonio in 2005. I took notes.

It seems that in late 1968, after graduating from OCS and completing MI Basic, he got a cushy job in G2, division intelligence, 1st Logistical Command, Long Binh, north of Saigon. Sometimes he was a briefer to generals and other visiting dignitaries. He was, of course, known for his humor.

Sometimes it edged towards the smart-ass. The culminating instance was a briefing for a major general and his orbiting entourage of colonels, majors and captains. 2Lt Wheat closed out the strategic and tactical briefing by enumerating some weapons recently captured. One was an AK-54, the machine gun version of the AK-47. But the general didn’t know what it was and he interrupted Wheat to ask about it.

Wheat was in a mood. Obviously. “Sir,” Wheat recalled saying, “the AK-54 is an AK-47 with seven years of service.”

Silence. The humorless general visibly ground his teeth. His face got redder when someone in the back laughed.

And thus our Wheat reported for duty to Bravo Company, 2nd of the 3rd of the 199th, which operated west of Saigon to the Cambodian border. He was assigned to 3rd platoon. I asked him once how many of his men were killed. He stiffened. “Not an inordinate number,” he replied.

Two years after the reunion, I ran across a Google link to a pdf of the Methodist Children’s Home, a Waco orphanage. There I found that Wheat was a frequent donor and in 2007 had donated several thousand dollars “in memory of thirty-seven men of 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry, killed in action in Viet Nam 1968-1969.”

In 2011, when I visited Israel for the first time, Wheat, a church-going Methodist whose father was a Methodist minister, asked me to place a prayer paper “memorializing” the 3rd Platoon in a crevice of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a Jewish tradition for two thousand years. I had an Israeli friend take a picture of me doing it and sent the picture to Wheat.

Maybe the thirty-seven are the reason Wheat, a native Texan and graduate of the University of Texas, made a post-war career at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Marlin, south of Waco. He had failed at medical school before he was drafted. He retired directing a lab at the hospital.

He was found deceased shortly before Christmas by a Methodist pastor making a wellness visit to his home in Canyon Lake. He was 81.

Handsomest man in the Army

My friend Russ Wheat always said he was the handsomest man in the army. This goes a long way to proving it, mighty cleft chin and all.

Adios, Amigo

My old friend, Russell Huntley Wheat, was 81 and living with diabetes when he passed away shortly before Xmas. Can’t be more precise as his Methodist pastor found his body on a wellness visit the week of the 15th. Apparently there was a memorial service on the 20th but there’s no evidence of it on the Web.

Russ, who lived in Canyon Lake just down the road from the mini-rancho, was the funnyman in Infantry OCS, always telling a joke before class with the permission of the tactical officers who enjoyed them as much as the rest of us. We who strained to hear him in a class of a hundred candidates. Never dirty, just funny.

He was perversely proud of his Purple Heart, for which he had a license plate on his truck, from leg wounds suffered in his days with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Viet Nam. He always sent a Hanukkah card and until recently a funky gift (army teeshirt, etc.) for Mr. Boy whom he had met when Mr. B was still eating in a high chair.

No more separating the Wheat from the chaff was my joke which I promised to tell at the end of our lives. And so it is.

Mass burial

I discovered something while cleaning out a cabinet this morning: A 2005 email from the late Ron Cima about our OCS reunion in San Antonio that year. He attended briefly enroute to somewhere else.

“I was very moved by my short time in San Antonio and very much appreciated having the time to talk with you and Tom [Ringwald, I think it was],” he wrote. “I regret I could not have stayed longer and spent more time with everyone else.”

He also mentioned a tip I gave him in line with his then MIA-hunting job at the Pentagon, on a mass burial of dead VC near my basecamp in 1969 on the southeast side of LZ Baldy, which was southwest of Da Nang. I had a  faded old photo of the dead in a pile but not the exact location.

“Your information about a mass burial is something I could potentially share with the Vietnamese,” Ron added. “Although they may not know what to do with it, our relationship with them is reciprocal and we try to give them what we can when we can. If and when you can come up with a more specific location, I’ll look for an opportunity to pass them the information.”

I wrote a short story about the encounter and the mass grave, collected in my book “Leaving The Alamo, Texas Stories After Vietnam,” but never had anything specific to share with Ron so our correspondence ended.

Our Vietnam War Dead

These are the men of 60th Company, OC 504-68, who were killed in Vietnam. We graduates of that 1968 class of Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, commemorate them each Memorial Day.

One graduate:  1LT Jacob Lee Kinser.

Two Tactical Officers:  CPT Reese Michael Patrick and 1LT Daniel Lynn Neiswender.

Four drop-outs:  CPL Sherry Joe Hadley, SP4 Reese Currenti Elia Jr., SP4 Robert Kendrick Chase, and PFC Jeffrey Sanders Tigner.

Kissing up to Code Pink

Some of my former co-workers, now also retired, periodically wax nostalgic about the snooze biz. I’m not nostalgic about it in the least, and can get downright irritable when I remember how it turned into the Leftist suckup news media that is pounding Trump, just like it enabled the Bush 2 haters and spent so much ink and paper kissing up to the lunatics of Code Pink

Undeserved credibility back then went to CP every time they held a “protest.” Some hapless reporter (including myself more often than I like to remember) was dispatched to “cover” their nonsense and lies. And if you tried to write objectively or included too many quotes from their critics, you got beaten back. As one editor told me in excising same from one of mine: “This is THEIR story.”

A President Trump will bring them back to the streets, I’m sure, and back to the pages of the snoozepapers, which are now struggling to pay the light bill. But it will be worth it to see the CP apoplexy. I hope they yell their pink selves hoarse and turn red. They already are Reds, politically, of course.

Who were, as an OCS friend’s WW2 veteran father once said, “the same as Nazis but in crappier uniforms.”