This poem was read to me by President Joseph Biden during his telephone call to me advising that I was to receive this nation's highest award for valor.
The "A" Team
(Special Forces Team A-101 Awarded: Navy Presidential Unit Citation)
In early 1967, I took command of Lang Vei Special Forces Camp. The command was an "A" Team, and about 400 Bru tribesmen. Lang Vei was the northern most camp in South Vietnam. It was on the Laos border, with North Viet Nam 20 kilometers to the north.
The "A" Team
There are twelve of them;
Each a specialist in turn,
Each very well trained to do
Whatever they are needed to do.
A Medic with years of training.
A Weapons Man, expert in all.
A Demolitions Man, ready to destroy.
A Communicator with signal gear.
A Team Sergeant, senior in knowledge,
Working intelligence and operations.
The Commander, a tough Captain,
And his Executive Officer.
Each with back-up on board,
Should the team need to split.
These men encompass deadly force:
They are stone faced killers.
They are trained to go anywhere,
Do anything, ready all the time.
They are the first boots on the ground,
Jumping from aircraft, ready to fight.
"Tiger Hound" Flight
I bummed a ride in a "BirdDog",
Needing to recon a landing zone
For an operation I was leading:
A deep penetration in force.
The pilot said he first needed
To fly by a possible target.
Enemy trucks were seen nearby,
And so we fly cross- border to Laos.
We circled the reported site.
But, neither of us could see trucks.
Tracers came out of the jungle,
Aimed right at us, and we jinxed.
The gunfire goes right by us
And down we go to find him,
The gunner who shot at us.
More flashes, more jinx and we have him.
In a tree he sits with his blazing gun,
Shooting whenever we come near.
We call in the strike aircraft,
And blow him out of his tree perch.
He dangles from a long chain,
Which is wrapped around one ankle.
And as we fly low past him -
We see the trucks under the trees.
We target the hidden trucks
And watch the strike aircraft.
They come in low with bomb loads;
Trucks explode and the targets burn.
The mornings work is now done.
My "Tiger Hound" pilot flies me south
To recon my landing zone.
Soon, I will be walking down below.
Leading a combat patrol
In the jungles of Viet Nam.
Never sure what we will find,
Always seeking the enemy.
A grenade explodes,
A machine gun cuts loose,
And the answering stucotto
Of my automatic rifle.
It all happens so quick,
But seems an eternity -
When you engage your foe,
And life is in the balance.
The sun finally came out.
It had been a cold and wet
January in the highlands
Of the Khe Sanh region.
Commanding a Special Forces camp:
Lang Vei on the Laotian border,
The northern most camp
In all South Viet Nam.
From the east, two planes come,
Jets, winging low down the valley.
They flash pass with a roar.
We cheer, thinking them friendly.
They turn around in the sky,
Flying straight at us below -
Bombs dropping, guns firing,
Explosions and mayhem in a flash.
The camp and Lang Vei village,
Now the victims of this war.
Screams, and lament tear the air:
As sons, wives and daughters die.
One more pass by the two jets,
Twenty millimeter cutting down -
Blood and destruction below.
They fly away into the sun.
Leaving behind disaster:
A "target error" in the war,
The wrong target was hit.
The wrong village was bombed.
A village in flames,
Screams of the wounded,
The discourse of war:
Smoke, dust and destruction.
The villages all hiding,
In the bunkers together.
The flames are burning fierce:
"They must be rescued."
We move into the village,
Dragging them out of the bunkers.
They, still terrified of death;
"The bunkers will be their end."
In the largest bunker of all,
Forty villagers huddle in fear.
Refusing to leave their sanctuary,
Afraid of what lurks above.
I beseech them to leave.
I order them to leave.
Nothing moves them from there,
Fear is their only master.
In a few minutes, I return.
But they are all dead:
Frozen in a final distortion -
Asphyxiated in the bunker.
After The Bombs
All the medical supplies
Have been used in helping
The victims of this attack:
Planes attacking a village.
A young girl is brought in,
Advanced in pregnancy.
She is torn from her pelvic,
Clear up to her rib cage.
I'll do my best for her.
I'll use safety pins -
Stitching her together again.
She smiles as I do it.
A few weeks have gone by,
Since the village attack,
And a helicopter returns,
With supplies and passengers.
A young girl walks up to me
And shows me her baby.
I'm not sure what to do;
Until she shows me her belly.
The safety pins left small scars,
But, she is healing cleanly.
Her baby is healthy, and she laughs,
At my surprise to see her again.
In recognition for my actions following Target Error, I was awarded the Soldier's Medal.
AWARD OF THE SOLDIER'S MEDAL
For heroism not involving actual conflict with an armed enemy in the Republic of Viet Nam: Captain Duffy distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 2 and 3 March 1967 immediatly following an air attack on the village of Lang Vei and the Special Forces Camp nearby. With complete disregard for personal safety, Captain Duffy went into the burning village to help evacuate the wounded. Even though there were secondary explosions and the village was still burning all around him, he located the wounded, administereed first aid and evacuated them to a nearby emergency aid station. The villagers were extremely frightened and it was often necessary for him to crawl into the smoke filled underground bunkers and convince them that they should be evacuated. Captain Duffy returned to the village time after time throughout the night and the next morning until all the wounded were rescued. He then helped those who survived and assisted in burying the dead. Through his unrelenting efforts, greater loss of life was avoided and rapport between the villagers and the Special Forces camp has been solidified. Captain Duffy's heroic actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
I was ordered to depart,
To turn over my command,
Of Lang Vei Special Forces Camp:
To a new, soon to be commander.
Captain Crenshaw soon arrived.
I briefed him and advised:
That we take three days more -
To complete the change in command.
He was respectful and firm,
His methods were different:
He believed in a quick change-over.
It would be best if I left.
My duty done, my command complete,
I said my farewells to my men,
Wishing them success and luck,
For their duties were difficult.
The new Commander and I,
We bid each other success.
I assigned to "Mike Force",
He with his new command.
It was on his first night commanding,
That the enemy infiltrated.
They slithered through the wire,
Tasked to kill the officers.
Captain Crenshaw was the first.
Next, they killed Lieutenant Stallings,
He was my Executive Officer.
Both targeted, and both killed.
The gunfire and the explosions,
Went on throughout the night.
The fight was fought close,
And lasted until first light.
The enemy withdrew at dawn,
Having done death and destruction.
I knew that it could've been me.
It was not yet my time to die.
Tough No More
(Australian Special Air Service (SAS))
It was in sixty-seven,
After I left Lang Vei,
A camp bloodied enough
To go into history.
I joined the Mike Force
At the DaNang base,
Working as the XO,
With the Aussie troops.
These men were rough soldiers,
In both the combat zone,
And also in the mess,
Where drinking was the norm.
We lost a man on patrol,
K.I.A., Killed in Action.
He would go back home,
To Australia, in a box.
It was heavy drinking
That took place in the mess,
At Sergeant Stone's "goodby",
A tough soldier was he.
Not a week had passed,
When we got the word:
Stone's pregnant new wife,
From a tree, hung herself.
It was heavy drinking
That went on that day,
Terrible to hear news;
That took your "tough" away.
Black Virgin Mountain
(Nui Ba Den)
Now, it was our turn to go in,
To try to dislodge the enemy:
From this strong-hold of the mountain,
The "Black Virgin Mountain" dominated all.
It was the one mountain on a plain,
Rising up high from the jungle below.
From it's peak, you could see everything,
The mountain was the key to all below.
So climb the mountain was the plan:
Fight our way to the very top.
Kill the enemy, dig him out,
Clear the mountain, control the plain.
Each tree became an obstacle,
Fought over and conquered.
The casualties began to mount,
As we fought our way higher.
When, we finally got to the top:
We wondered where the enemy was?
He was dug into the mountain,
Waiting for us to turn around.
Caught in an ambush,
All were surprised.
I managed my escape
Away from the killing guns.
But a friend of mine,
One who was close to me,
Fared not so well.
Him, they almost caught.
They came upon him,
Intent on his capture.
He saw his end nearing
And he made his choice.
He emptied his gun,
That is, all but one,
Blasting four of them
Into another world.
Then the barrel he bit,
And the trigger he pulled,
Making his long journey -
Away from here.
I was to report to headquarters,
It was a special assignment.
So off to Nha Trang I flew,
Curious and excited, but not sure why.
The Intel Officer, he advised me -
That a liaison officer was needed,
In Saigon, to coordinate the Groups effort.
So. off to Saigon, an Intel Officer.
Every day, I sat at my desk,
With my classified documents:
SECRET, TOP SECRET, and SPECIAL INTEL.
I acted as the filter for my chief.
So many people working on intelligence,
I coordinated with fifty-one outfits.
It was a job just to meet them,
Let alone to attend all the briefings.
But, I took it in stride, I did.
I never once complained to anyone.
War was tough, my job was in Saigon,
No grit or grime, just lots of SECRETS.
Each morning, I would prepare
For the eight o'clock briefing.
A four star General and staff,
To be informed on the war.
The four star would sit
In his easy chair, relaxed.
The staff sat on edge,
Awaiting his hard questions.
Five minutes on center stage,
Five minutes to tell the story
Of war and destruction:
Of victories and defeats.
Watching the four star,
For when he rubbed his pallet,
The agitation was near -
And all would cringe in fear.
From 1969 to 1974, I served with Special Operations in various capacities, Operations Officer, Launch Site Officer, Forward Air Controller, Executive Officer and Search Team Commander.
I know of your exploits,
I know of your deeds,
I remember the gunfire
And the smell of cordite.
You are not like the others,
You seek out tough missions,
To gamble that you'll win -
The next roll of the dice.
The edge is your challenge.
The moment of contact,
It is terror and fear,
Against you, the recon man.
For years, you fought the war;
You fought until the last day,
Until the war was finished.
You never turned your back.
The Forward Air Controller
It is the lonely mission,
The Forward Air Controller.
His are the eyes above the battle.
His is the link to those below.
While others avoid and strike fast,
He lingers and trolls for contact,
Seekings out the enemy below,
Determining the strike force needed.
His is the job to control the air attack.
He determines the needs of the troops,
And works the airstrike margins.
His judgement is relied upon by all.
Watching a "FAC" roll in hot on target,
All guns blazing at his destruction,
Is to watch a man of courage in action.
This is the daily job of the "FAC".
* * * * * * *
THIS POEM IS INSCRIBED IN GRANITE AS PART OF A MEMORIAL TO THE "FORWARD AIR CONTROLLERS" WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES SO OTHERS COULD LIVE. THE SITE OF THE MEMORIAL IS IN COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO.
THE DEDICATION: OCTOBER 3, 2008
Note: I was asked to write and present "The Forward Air Controller Requiem" at the ceremony. The Air Force "Missing-Man" flight followed the requiem reading.
"All the old men were crying." quoted one 14 year old in attendance (See Guest Section). My requiem was latter added in bronze to the monument. View in Requiem Section.
Flying those danger missions
Over the skies of Laos,
Watching the Ho Chi Minh Trail,
An expressway in the jungle.
The enemy must have supplies:
Ammunition, fuel and spare parts,
Everything moves down the trail,
Protected by anti-aircraft guns.
Into the sky each morning,
We would fly, seeking movement:
A truck, a convoy, or a flashing gun.
They were all targeted by us.
A recon team on the ground
Would hear the engine noises,
And at first light, talk to us:
The Forward Air Controller.
It was Sergeant Sweeney,
Who said: "They have a pipeline."
A pipeline going through the jungle,
Transporting fuel for Ho Chi Minh.
The report was sent to the General,
And he was briefed on the pipeline.
The General discounted the report.
He said: "that we were in error."
I sent the good Sergeant back,
And told him to mark the pipe
With a few rockets from above.
The pipe blew, still pumping.
The fires shot high in the sky.
Sergeant Sweeney took some pictures,
And then he put in a strike
From the bombers lurking above.
Now, the General was right indeed,
There wasn't a pipeline anymore,
Just some old pipe and wreckage.
Only, it was Sweeney who was right.
It was Captain Pasco
Who spotted the barrels,
Floating down a jungle river:
Large fifty-five gallon drums.
He said they would hit a cable
And disappear into the bush.
He said it was just not right,
So he'd photographed the site.
So the very next day early,
I ordered a set of bombers,
With a load of ordinance,
To go there with their bombs.
The jungle erupted in flames
And explosion followed explosion
As the petroleum burned,
A heavy black smoke arose.
For three days and three nights,
We bombed that burning jungle,
Destroying gasoline and ammo,
In the cache of Ho Chi Minh.
Decorating Our Tree
It was in Nakhon Phonom,
And we had a Christmas tree,
Flown in by the Air Force,
And we were going to celebrate.
But, although we had a tree,
We didn't have any decorations,
And there were but a few days left
Before Christmas was upon us.
So, with good cheer and ingenuity,
We decided to decorate our tree
With panties earned by hard endeavor,
In the local entertainment places.
So each night, after a days flying,
Off to town we would drive,
Intent on our pursuit of panties.
The work was hard, but we were young.
Each morning, we would proudly hang,
A pantie, or two, or three,
From our lovely Christmas tree:
All silky and cheery, on display.
Under The Gun
A Squadron Commander is shot down.
A beeper is heard in the jungle.
The crash location is observed,
But, there is no voice from the radio.
A rescue mission is to be launched.
We'll send a team in to search.
Either he's dead in the wreckage,
Or we'll locate and pull him.
From six bases, assets are joined.
We'll go in hot and heavy.
We'll put a team on the ground,
And blast a path to the crash.
I fly over the crash site.
The wreckage is at the end of a valley.
He plowed his way through the jungle,
And the canopy is still in place.
Only a "beeper" is heard to draw us in.
If he's alive, he would talk to us.
We'll fly a low pass before we launch,
Let's see what else is down there.
We fly our plane down the valley,
Seeing what else is waiting down there.
I look up, and see guns in the caves,
Set-up and ready, waiting for us.
To the pilot: "Did you see what I saw?"
He confirmed the guns above and said:
"They'll shoot us to pieces should we launch.
There is no way to get at those guns."
Just a beeper, no voice, a set-up.
They are waiting to ambush us.
Over the radio, I advise all:
"Weather not workable, cancel the mission!"
Bomb Damage Report
As I walk through the twisted jungle,
I can see the havoc and destruction
That we have imposed upon the enemy,
For he is torn and dead, beyond this world.
I know of the bombings we have done.
I know of the explosions and fire.
I know about the lives we have taken;
Waging war in the jungles of Viet Nam.
A black Lieutenant,
Belly scarred by grenade,
Worked for me at Lang Vei.
He was blasted in the night.
A medic at Con Thien,
His artery torn by frags,
He said he was sorry,
That he must die on us.
An Australian Captain,
Thus others be helped,
Bled slowly to death.
Those were the early years,
Years of confidence,
Filled with glory stories,
Bravery was still new.
A Vietnamese Sergeant
Survived a fiery crash,
Two legs and an arm
Chopped away from him.
Marines at Khe Sanh,
Two weeks collecting dead:
Bloated stinking bodies,
Stacked for shipment home.
War was now more grim,
Anyone could find his end.
Stories no longer told,
Fear and caution ruled.
Troops sitting secure
Behind barbed wire,
Until rocket blasts
Shattered their moment.
Riding in choppers
Was no longer new,
Flying much higher now,
Above the jungle's flash.
A plane load vanished
In a Highland mist,
Those men were veterans,
Even their number came.
No more glory in war.
Everyone knows the dead.
Only the end must come.
Death's distortions are the truth.
At Seventeen, yelling "Airborne"
And jumping out of planes.
At Eighteen, sitting on the strip,
Loaded for combat in Budapest.
The years went by surely;
Suez, Lebanon, and the Congo.
One crisis followed another,
As I stood in the door.
Ready to drop in for Glory,
Or smash the blockade of Berlin.
Those foolish years of dreams,
Garnered from martial books.
Rumors of fighting in the jungle
Enticed me to step forward,
Seeking my soldier's initiation,
Into this spasm of Glory.
I fought over the green lands,
Once tranquil and beautiful,
Now turned into a quagmire of fears:
Reflecting the ugly pocks of war.
For too many years in combat,
Now bitter at my discovery,
Glory lives only in books,
Reality is not to seek it out.