Alpha Battery had just airlifted off Firebase 6 at Dak To when we first met. He flew into our location on a Huey that was making a supply run. The battery was busy digging in and the sight of all that activity in a steaming jungle clearing must have been an intimidating sight. As I greeted him, I could sense his anxiety. Bobbie did not have much of an artillery background so joining a towed, WWII vintage 155mm unit, must have been a daunting sight.
We made a quick rtip around the battery position stopping at each section to make introductions. When we got to what was going to be our command post (CP), I tossed him a pick and we began digging, filling sandbags, laying PSP, all while we were getting to know each other. It did not take long for him to work up a sweat but it was aparent that he was no stranger to hard work. I found out he was from rural Texas, that he served in several basic training units, and had tours as an advisor working with the National Guard and Reserves. After several hours, we had the makings of a livable bunker and funtional CP. In between the digging, it was necessary to make some spot reports to battalion, to guide in chinook choppers with extra ammunition loads, and to coordinate with an armed cavalry company that was our perimeter security. It was well after midnight before we were able to sit down to plan out the next day's events. Suddenly, a howitzer erupted with a deafening blast causing dust to fall all over us. TOP's eyes were wide open in stark amazement.
He did not get much rest for the remainder of the night."
It did not take TOP long to get familiar with the battery's daily activities or to make his presence felt. He master the aiming circle and could lay the battery. He became adept at making battery moves by land or air. What he excelled at was caring for his cannoneers. He carried a small black notebook that had all the key information on everyone assigned to the battery to include critical artillery information like sorties needed to move the battery, call signs, radio frequencies, and the like. There was never a shortage of food, clothing, ammo, or sundry items. TOP made it his business t know everyone. He had a wit about him that made us laugh and set us at ease. His trademark was a wad of Beechnut chewing tobacco in his mouth, and an ever present Swisher Sweet cigar that moved back and forth as he talked. I was amazed at how he could drink coffee, smoke, and chew all at the same time. Top did not mince words when it came time to get things done. He had everyone's back, and all respected him.
TOP was wouded during the Siege of Dak To, evacuated to Japan, and sent to the United States to recover. Soon after hs return, he retired from the Army after serving 21 years. He settled in Stockdale, Texas, ran for public office, and the locals elected him Justice of the Peace (JP). A young man that he tok under wing wrote this abut him, "Judge Pope caught me stealing watermelons when I was in the 5th or 6th grade. At the time, I thought it was the end of the world. . . Over the next 25 years we spent countless hours together. Judge became a friend, role model, and ather figure. I am what I am because of Judge Pope. Looking back, getting caught stealing those watermelons was the best thing that ever happened to me. He will truly be missed." Top was a great listener; he always had time for you. The leadership traits and caring attitude that he brought to the battery, he applied to the community he served as a JP for 24 years.
I had the pleasure of spending time with TOP in 2000. I drove down to his ranch outside of Stockdale. He had retired from public office but everyone we met still called him judge. We shared stories about our days in Vietnam, we talked about our families, and how our lives had changed. He took me to a penned in area on his ranch where he raised chase and catch dogs for hunting wild hogs. That was now his passion and hobby.
Many of you got to meet TOP at our reunion in Kinder, Louisiana in 2000. We drove together to the reunion in my old pickup taking the back roads. We had a grand time sipping coffee and reminiscing about our days in A Battery. He enjoyed himself at the reunion immensely. As we drove back to Texas, TOP told me that he survived several heart attacks along with some stomach problems caused by his wounds. "It is time to slow down," he said. TOP sent his last days at the Texas Statee Veteran's Home in Floresville, Texas amongst other Veterans like him. He was 75 when he was felled by his wartime injuries. TOP was a hell of a soldier. He served is Country well.