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In Vietnam Live Close To Death
By THOMAS CORPORA United Press International
THE OASIS, Vietnam (UPI) - The Hawkeyes of the 4th Infantry Division get closer to the Communist enemy than most GIs in Vietnam. It is a deadly intimacy. It means death in places the Communist soldiers believe safe, death at the length of a rifle barrel. The Hawkeyes are Maj. Gen. William Peers' long range reconnaissance patrols with something added – hunter-killer missions. They range the "rear" areas of the North Vietnamese soldiers, known to the 4th Division as "Dink," and of the Viet Cong "Charlie," gathering intelligence, calling air strikes and artillery fire down on unsuspecting units too large to attack, and picking fights with smaller units. The idea of the Hawkeyes came from the 4th Division commander's experience in Burma during World War II. There, small units, often made up of indigenous troops, raided the Japanese rear and kept them off balance.
Tries Same Thing
When Peers took over the 4th Division, he decided to try the same thing in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He gave the hunter-killer teams the name Hawkeye because it fits the hunter-killer role - and because Peers was born in Iowa, the Hawkeye State. Peers' Hawkeye teams are either all American or mixed American and Vietnamese.
The teams are so small, less than half an infantry squad, that Peers would prefer their exact size go unmentioned. By Peers’ own assessment, the Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon (LRRP pronounced lurp) of the 2nd Brigade, whose forward base camp about 15 miles south of Pleiku city is known as The Oasis, is the best. The 2nd Brigade LRRPs have 43 kills to their credit and up to this month had not lost a man. Seven LRRPs have been wounded, but all returned to duty. Often Decorated It is Peers' policy to promote end decorate the LRRPs as often as they deserve it, which is often, and it is not unusual to find two-year draftees making sergeant or a man holding a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor. One LRRP has won two Silver Stars.
The GIs who become LRRPs are often called the toughest and best soldiers in Vietnam, but their similarities end there. There is no one, kind or breed of soldier who becomes a LRRP.
S. Sgt. John A. Sanderson, 22 of Detroit, is a Canadian who was drafted from college into the Army. He is married but that didn't stop him from joining the LRRPs or from winning two Bronze Stars with "V" devices. He made staff sergeant in 19 months.
S. Sgt. Charles J. Britt, 23, of Ferndale, Md., is a serious young man who knows most of what there is to know about small arms. He has been a LRRP since the platoon was formed and recently volunteered for six more months in Vietnam. Britt, who took me on a LRRP mission recently, is rated by everyone as the best. The men in the platoon call him "The Living Legend," or "Ledge" for short.
Although friendships are probably closer in the LRRP's than in an ordinary unit and there's probably more partying (rules around a LRRP platoon are understandably more relaxed), the LRRP is alone with his thoughts a great deal of time. On a five-day patrol, a man might never speak to other members of the team and the only voice he might hear would be a whispered command from the team leader. For men who deal in death, and especially at close quarters, death is never far from mind and the easiest way to think about it is to laugh about it.
Whenever a team gets a mission the first thing everyone else in the platoon does is start shouting for the team members to "Leave your money with me," "Give me your watch," "Hey, you got a pocket knife. Leave it with me." Platoon Sgt. Carl W. Littlejohn, 24, of Binghamton, N.Y., and Knoxville, Tenn., a Silver Star holder, shouts the loudest and by tradition - and perhaps as an offering to the gods - the men give him whatever they want left behind. But if Littlejohn had to keep any of those things, he'd be the unhappiest man in the Army.