50 Years After My Lai: Remembering Charlie Company

Photo by -JvL- | CC BY 2.0

It was late January, 1969 when I joined the Company at LZ Thunder, located in southern Quang Ngai Province.  As a replacement with the trademarks of new boots and fatigues, I would be “initiated” into my new identity as a “Jungle Warrior” ( the 11th Infantry Brigade).  The 3rd squad, 3rd platoon RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) was particularly happy to see me—I’d be relieving him of humping the radio.

Having new guys was considered a mixed blessing, in one sense, someone to share the load, but also someone who could be a liability in a fire fight.  Yet, as the squad RTO, I was tethered to my squad leader; with his eight months in the field, he was a fountain of experience.  He showed me how to function as a team member, and maybe survive my 365.  He demonstrated what a squad leader should be– following the command decisions from the top-down, yet shaping decisions based on his squad’s unique “enemy” engagement situation.

Forty-nine years later, in reading a well researched essay by a former platoon leader in the 1st Cav., I found a kindred spirit who reached in and found me, so to speak, where I live.  The essay is titled “Calley’s Ghost” by Philip D. Beidler, published in VQR online, issue: 2003.  In his piece, he leads the reader through the 11th Brigade’s “initiation” to Vietnam from their all to brief and totally inadequate training in Hawaii, to Duc Pho and My Lai 4, and summarizes all the details of…

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