One of the things I did, which was very unusual, was volunteer to be the ‘point person’ on patrol. The point person was the first person leading the unit. Even though it was most dangerous I volunteered because I didn't have confidence in the city boys to read the signs. In North Carolina I used to trap muskrats and hunt rabbit and knew when a snake had just passed through the grass. Growing up where I grew up you needed to have those skills. If you couldn’t read where a water moccasin had just been you might get bit by one. I told the city boys I wouldn’t let them walk me into an ambush.
During orientation they told us not to become friends with anyone else in the infantry because if your friend died you would get distraught and not focus on your duty and then get you or one of your comrades killed. So I made the decision that I wouldn’t have any friends while out on patrol.
In September of 1968 new troops came in. One of the replacements was a young, Irish kid from Detroit. Everyone called him Ladd, but his full name was Albert Allen Ladd.
There was another guy in our platoon called MC – a black corporal from St. Louis Missouri. MC was a ‘short timer’ when Ladd arrived in September. Each infantry soldier spent eleven and a half months out on patrol. A ‘short timer’ meant that a soldier only had a few more weeks until he would fulfill his patrol duties and be sent back to the states.
The worst thing for the morale of the troops was to have a ‘short timer’ go through eleven months of service and then be killed right before they were supposed to go home. So, normally when you are a ‘short timer’ they let you pull guard in the rear of the unit where it’s a safer, or back on base where there is no danger. MC had been there eleven months and a week, but he got on the wrong side of the Lieutenant and instead of putting him back on base the Lieutenant kept him out on patrol.
Every minute you were out on patrol you could die. The closer soldiers got to eleven and a half months the more paranoid they became that they were going to die at the last minute.
On patrol we always had guard duty at night when each soldier would stand guard for two hours. MC was paranoid he’d get killed with only a few days left and he didn’t trust Ladd because he approached Ladd one night in the darkness and Ladd didn’t hear him coming. He thought Ladd had fallen asleep, but what he didn’t know was that Ladd had a hearing impediment and couldn’t hear out of one ear. So MC decided he’d stay up with Ladd during Ladd’s guard duty to ensure the base wasn’t attacked.
But I didn’t want MC to pull double guard duty because if he was sleep deprived he wouldn’t be attentive during the day, and if you weren’t attentive you’d get killed. I didn’t want a ‘short timer’ to get killed so I volunteered to pull double duty and stay up with Ladd when it was his turn for guard duty. During those nights together Ladd and I forged a close friendship.
When somebody was a friend you’d drink a beer together in base camp or play cards in camp or whatever else. Some of the blacks gave me crap for being friends with a white guy and some of the whites gave Ladd crap about being friends with a black guy, but we didn’t care. We really just enjoyed each other’s company.
There was a lot of racism in the army but only when we were on base. When we were on patrol there were no blacks and whites. There were active KKK members who would risk their lives to save a black soldiers life when in combat. And there were black soldiers who would risk their lives to save an active KKK member’s life. But when we got back to base everything reverted back to normal with the racial prejudices.
I had a relationship with Ladd from September of 1968 until April of 1969 when he was killed...
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