Hats Off To Soldiers Of The 25th

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - July 06, 2005
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I tend to get military-sentimental around the Fourth of July. I feel strongly for the men and women America so frequently sends to war. To death and life-altering injuries.

A good chunk of my young life was spent with the 25th Infantry Divison from Schofield Barracks.

I was the Advertiser’s military editor. I’d parachute out of transports with the 25th into Kunia pineapple fields. Trudge muddy Koolau pinnacle trails with platoons. Go through gasattack training. POW training at Old Kara Village.

In 1965, I went as the paper’s permanent Vietnam bureau man with the 25th into Pleiku in the central highlands with one brigade, and then into Cu Chi, northwest of Saigon, with another.

I learned quickly that warfare is very ugly. It kills the enemy, kills lots of civilians, turns some good young Americans into animals, and accidentally kills some of our own.

Shortly after my 30th birthday, a “friendly-fire” mortar round from a 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry weapons platoon killed everyone in Waimanalo Sgt. Robert Andrade’s fiveman squad I was accompanying and put me in the 3rd Field Hospital with head, hand, leg and back shrapnel wounds. I still carry metal as an embedded souvenir.

I went back with the 25th in jungle combat after several weeks of recuperation. I lived through uncountable firefights and survived many dead friends.

I went through a South Korea war exercise with the division for a KGMB-TV documentary in the ’80s, then lost touch with it.

I miss the old gang. Everyone misses people you’ve been at war with. Pete Kama and 1st Sgt. Dizon, two of the exceptionally talented infantry soldiers to come out of Hawaii. Young David Bramlett of C Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, and young Eric Shinseki, an artillery forward observer, both lieutenants who’d become four-star generals. The local-boy cooks who could do chicken-rice with chili peppers on long jungle patrols. I got Hawaii merchants to send us Pepsi, poi and opihi by the gallons for our all-Hawaii luau at Long Binh. A 25th squad made a very illegal and dangerous incursion into Cambodia to get us proper rocks for the imu. Filthy and tired Hawaii soldiers and Marines found their way to Long Binh by thumb, jeep, truck and helicopter from all over Vietnam for that one.

Which brings me to this:

There’s a new, lifelike memorial at Schofield Barracks. The Tropic Lightning Association with 4,200 members has raised $100,000 for the $450,000 project. Needs more money. Can you help? I hope so.

The first increment unveiled in June is for those who went to Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a bronze soldier standing in reflection. The model for the sculpture is Sgt. James Rivera of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment.

Later, as more money comes in, there will be three more life-sized GIs-in-metal standing there — one for World War II, one for Korea and one for Vietnam. I really want to see that last one.

There are things that still pain me about Vietnam. The political/military intrigue, the drugs, the dead civilians, the 58,000 Americans who only got out in coffins or whose bones still lie unfound some place.

And the things we saw and could not tell home folks about.

In 1966, I got a call in Saigon from Henderson Ahlo Jr., of Pearl City, a mortician at the central U.S. mortuary at Tan Son Nhut Air Base on the edge of the capital. Come visit and see what we do, he said.

The on-base path to the mortuary had several ditches spanned by board walks and each ditch ran red with blood.

Inside, I was speechless. Not just bodies. Pieces of bodies. Many bodies burned by napalm and with charred limbs extended like forest-fire tree branches. A horror show.

I wrote about it but it never ran. I got a note from city editor Sanford Zalburg saying that Hawaii readers were not ready for such graphic reality.

Nobody writes about the military morgue for Iraq, either. You can’t even get a photo of a flag-draped coffin coming home. The dead are still too sensitive.

Anyway … don’t know anybody at Schofield Barracks today, and nobody there is likely to know about me unless he looks at the preface I wrote for the Tropic Lightning yearbook that first year of the division’s long agony in Vietnam.

I mean what I said then. I’d say it today.

Hats off, a soldier of the 25th is passing by.

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