Ive pulled some less than brilliant stunts during my military career but an attempt to get the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) has got to be an all-time winner.
During my first tour in 1968- 69 I was a Warrant Officer flying helicopter gunships for the 48th Assault Helicopter Company (Joker 51) out of Ninh Hoa. We were in direct support of the 9th Korean (White Horse) Division. Quite often we had a Korean liaison/interpreter flying in the lead ship if we were working in support of troops on the ground.
For three months I had the same interpreter almost daily (Captain Pak) and we become pretty good friends. One day Captain Pak told me it was to be his last mission with us. He was going to take command of one of the Infantry companies in the 29th Regiment (I think it was the 29th but could have been the 28th). The Regiment was also headquartered at Ninh Hoa. I immediately began to form a plan to get a CIB. What does a pilot need with a CIB you ask? I dont know, it just seemed like the thing to do at the time.
So off I go half cocked. No need to check the requirements for a CIB right? All I needed to do to get a CIB is to be in combat with a line Infantry unit I thought..............right?
I waited several weeks for Captain Pak to get his feet on the ground and then went to see him. I told him I wanted to go out on patrol with one of his platoons (preferably the entire company because if Im going on the hostile side of the wire, I want lots of company) but I had some stipulations. First, I would be limited to three days (amount of time I could get out of flying), I needed to get into a firefight but nothing really serious, and would he write up a statement to the effect that I had been out on patrol and that we had been in contact (If we really had.........I do have some integrity) after it was over. No problem on his end, he said.
Again, a wait for almost three weeks before Captain Pak came to the tent we called the officers club and said he was sending a reinforced platoon out and was I still interested in going? Sure I was interested, but the patrol was scheduled to start at night (I wasnt too happy to hear that). I had sort of forgotten that a multi-day patrol also meant we would be out at night). I had two days to get my stuff put together. My platoon leader said it was OK with him since I was near the 30 day, 140 hour automatic grounding rule anyway (you guys remember that rule, the one that could be waived for almost anything or the hours extended). The patrol was to be a two night and two day affair. Captain Pak said they had reasonably good information that there was VC activity where the patrol was going. Reality suddenly slapped me in the face, but I was committed..........or at least I probably should have been.
I went to the supply room and with the assistance of several of the pilots and crewmen from the gun platoon, we began to put together what we thought was the correct outfit for a patrol. At the conclusion of this wardrobe and accessories affair I looked like a cross between John Wayne, Attila the Hun, and Dorthy from the Wizard of OZ. When I showed up at Captain Paks you should have seen him roll his eyes, but he was courteous enough not to laugh, or at least not while I was there. He took away almost everything I had on except my jungle fatigues. Gone was my trusty and always rusty .45 pistol and in its place he gave me an M2 Carbine, two more regular canteens and a clear plastic one, enough ammunition to start WWIII, five fragmentation grenades, Korean rations which looked like C-rations (I had completely forgotten about rations), three smoke grenades, and two Koreans who spoke pretty good English or at least one of them did. I think they were with me more for the protection of the rest of the platoon than they were for my protection. You know, kind of keep me from doing something stupid or at least not any more stupid than what I was already doing. The patrol was made up of almost two platoons plus three mortars. It took four 2 ½ ton trucks to take us to where we actually started the patrol.
We got to the area just at dusk and started the patrol. Talk about a keen sense of hearing and smell and the hair standing straight up on the back of my neck. After a while and the miles though I began to loose that keen combat edge except that I was still no shit scared.
For the readers sanity, Ill condense it down and not go into all the details of the patrol. Let me say something here though about Korean rations. They may look like American rations because they were packaged in the same light brown cardboard box and OD tin cans, but theyre not like American Cs. The similarity stops, it actually screeches to a halt, as soon as the P38 sinks into the first tin can. There wasnt one thing in any of those cans resembling anything I had ever seen before let along eaten. I didnt know I could go without food for two nights and days. Ive heard it said that if you get hungry enough youll eat anything. It isnt true. There just aint that much hungry in the world!!! By the middle of the second day I was ready to trade my fake Rolex and sunglasses for even a single can of Ham and MFs if there had been any around.
So now, back to the condensed version of the patrol. Well, there were lots of things that happen during the patrol like seeing the biggest damned snake in the world and being scared, constantly adjusting the ruck to keep it from rubbing all the hide off just one place, wondering when or if wed ever stop to rest and being scared, crossing rice paddies which I always thought were just shin deep but in fact can get up to your waist, running out of water and being scared, seeing an air strike by some Phamtoms several miles away, finding two booby traps (I didnt find em), and oh yes, did I mention being scared? To cut this short, we did shoot up a couple of what were probably abandoned huts but Sergeant Lee (one of my two protectors) said we were shot at first. I threw a hand grenade when the firing started but Sergeant Lee gave me a look that said dont do that again and I didnt. I did lighten my ammunition load considerably though.
When we got back, I got my statement from Captain Pak, went in to see Captain White who handled the companys awards stuff and told him I wanted to be put in for a CIB. He stared at me for a few seconds like I had a third eye in the middle of my forehead, read the statement from Captain Pak and then started laughing. He asked me if I knew what the requirements were for award of the CIB? I said to have been in combat with a line Infantry unit I guessed. He pulled out the AR and read me some of the requirements. The first one sank my ship. I had to be assigned to a TO&E slot in a unit that was authorized to award the CIB. There were other requirements too but I didnt meet any of those either.
The bottom line was, I had been out in the bush perpetually scared for two days and nights, and all I was going to get out of it was a bunch of pilots laughing their asses off at me. So I dont have a Combat Infantry Badge. But then what the hell............ Badges? I dont need no stinking badges.
By Will Stafford
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