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The Fight of My Life

Updated: May 10, 2022

Our birthdays are supposed to be happy, celebrations of the day we were born. I hated mine. For my wife and children, I would pretend to enjoy myself.

The problem was my mind could never forget the day I turned twenty-two.

It was the 25th of April, 1968. I was in South Vietnam’s A Shau Valley.

I was an infantry platoon leader for 1st Platoon, D Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Yes, Custer’s old outfit.

I arrived in Vietnam a week before the Tet Offensive. As a brand-new second lieutenant, they literally threw me into the fire and over the next three months, it never let up.

We were entering the second week of “Operation Delaware.” I Corps had reports of a large concentration of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in the A Shau. We were to seek and destroy them before they could flee across the border into Laos.

The first day of the operation was brutal. The fighting was intense, seemingly never letting up. Our chopper pilots did their absolute best to get the wounded out, keep us resupplied and additional troops brought in. But they were taking a beating. They lost ten choppers and had twenty-three damaged. In fact, their one-day loss was the greatest for the entire Vietnam war.

I started with a platoon of twenty-five men. By the beginning of the second week, I was down to twenty men. I had two wounded and three Killed in Action (KIA’s).

The morning of the 25th, Captain Alvarez met with his platoon lieutenants. He laid out our orders. We were to move north approximately one klick (kilometer). Aerial reconnaissance showed what looked like a large NVA supply bunker.

My company would proceed through the grassy center with Charlie and Delta companies on our sides. I had a great deal of respect for the captain. But this order was insane.

I looked at Captain Alvarez. “Sir, outside a couple of ant hills, my platoon will have no cover if the shit hits the fan.”

“Listen lieutenant, that’s your job.”

“Gentlemen, any more questions?”

With that, we all started walking back to our platoons.

“John, comeback over here. Listen, I said the same thing to the major. He knows it’s fucked up, and he expressed his disagreement with the general. John, I promise you, I will do my best to keep you and your men safe.”

“I know you will, captain.”

As I was walking away. He shouted; “Happy Birthday John. I have a special box of C-rations for your birthday dinner.”

When I got back to my platoon, I met with my Sergeant Jim Curry and gave him the bad news. Jim was a “short timer.” He had less than three weeks to go before he would be headed home. I had tried to get him reassigned to a rear area job, but our battalion commanding officer would not allow it.

“Jim, we both know this could be bad. Promise me you will keep your head down and no heroics. I want you home with Mary and the kids.”

“I promise Lt, By the way, Happy Birthday.”


Twenty minutes later, we got the order to move out. As we walked north through the grass, I had my men spread out, making it harder for the NVA.

I had this gut feeling something wasn’t right. After being in combat for months, you develop a sort of six sense.

Sgt. Curry came up alongside of me.

“I don’t like this. The little bastards are out there and waiting for us.”

Before I could answer, all hell broke loose.

We were takin